The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • Sir, Mr Field and I appear for the Daily and Sunday Express and the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday newspapers.

  • May I thank you for fitting these opening submissions into your timetable and may I reassure you that the newspapers we represent hope to provide full assistance to your Inquiry and avoid any further disruption to the timetable.

  • We have lodged some short written submissions, and may I just pick up a couple of points from those.

    First, we noted your comments yesterday about considering freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be fundamental to our democracy, but also noting that all freedoms have to be exercised with regards to the rights of others.

    One authority that was referred to in our note was McCartan Turkington Breen v the Times newspapers, and Lord Bingham, just at the end of that, had noted that courts here and elsewhere have recognised the cardinal importance of press freedom, and the need for any restriction on that freedom to be proportionate and no more than is necessary to promote the legitimate object of the restriction, which is of course easy to say and then sometimes difficult to work out in practice.

    That does bring me on to the first substantial point that we hope to raise before you, sir, today, which is the extent to which any investigation into possible changes to the civil law governing the relationship between the press and public will be a matter for your Inquiry.

    We had noted in the written submissions the comment that you had made in your ruling on the application by Ms Elaine Decoulos to become a core participant, and you noted that the approach of the press to proceedings in court to correcting libelous errors "may, I repeat may, arise at one end of the spectrum of issues to which this Inquiry relates".

    Plainly, if any regulation is to be no more than is necessary, to paraphrase Lord Bingham's comment, then the existing civil and criminal remedies are plainly an important part of the picture that will need to be addressed by the Inquiry. For those reasons, we submit that, properly engaged within the terms of reference, will be at least some consideration of the extent to which civil law remedies provide, both for the reader and complainants and for the press, speedy, effective and reasonably cheap proceedings.

  • That breaks down into two, doesn't it? The first is whether the substantive law is appropriate or sufficient, and secondly whether the process is.

  • Indeed, sir, and as far as the law is concerned, one can well understand the proposition that that might be a step too far for any Inquiry dealing with the full range of issues that are engaged before you.

  • I'm pleased that somebody thinks there are some steps that are too far.

  • But so far as process is concerned, then, of course, if one is looking at any structures that might engage both civil and other matters, there are possible ways in which those matters could be raised before you.

    That, sir, really is as far as we wanted to take it. It's obviously very much a matter for you and your team how far you consider the extent to which you have time to explore that consistently with the terms of the reference.

  • Let me just argue with that a moment. I would be very keen that if you felt that there were things that I ought to be thinking about which I'm not, particularly if you've canvassed the views of others of the core participants, that you raise them with Mr Jay and the team to see how, if at all, they can be coped with.

    I am very happy to be responsible for what emanates from this Inquiry, but in taking the spirit of the assistance which everybody has promised me, that extends to suggesting things that I really need to be looking at and then seeing how one can fit the time around them.

  • We will certainly attempt to do that, and I entirely accept that the hard work of any core participant is all done behind the scenes rather than necessarily in open court.

  • Can I then turn to the other matter that we wanted to raise, and I hope in the same vein, and that's regulation of the press in other jurisdictions.

    If one looks around the world -- and there was a very short comparative review, not in any sense to be relied on --

  • -- of different approaches in different jurisdictions, we do respectfully submit that there are some lessons that might be learned from that review and other lessons that can be absorbed for all from the different approaches that have been taken.

    In that respect, we had noted a principled distinction between regulation of the print media and regulation of the Internet media, and in circumstances now where you have, for libel awards that are made against national newspapers, an attribution normally of about 50 per cent towards the print media and 50 per cent towards the Internet media -- because, of course, no one is interested in arguing between the two -- then it is perfectly plain that regulation, if there is to be any and if it is to engage newspapers, has to deal with the Internet publication of online papers.

    In those circumstances, one can see, for example, the approach taken in the United States, which appears to be very permissive, to the distinct approach taken, for example, in India. I have shown those examples. We will certainly attempt to assist and feed in some further information as it becomes available to the team in relation to those matters.

  • One of the questions which is particularly going to cause me some pause for thought is the question of the voluntariness of the whole process.

  • That's particularly relevant, I think --

  • To those newspapers that I represent?

  • Indeed, sir. At the moment, the requests from the Inquiry haven't yet been targeted to the approach and the reasons why, and therefore any submissions will be made in relation to the evidence of that, but there has been, as you can see in the past, engagement with the process, and then, because of views taken about whether that was a proper process, a disengagement --

  • Yes, Mr Dingemans, your clients are entitled to take what view they like about a system that is entirely voluntary.

  • That's the necessary conclusion of it being voluntary.

  • The question is whether any more that system is -- I suppose the buzz phrase these days is "fit for purpose", whether it does what it says on the tin.

  • And whether you end up with the situation in the United States, broadly speaking, for print media, where there is effectively the civil and criminal regulation, or whether you end up with something more sophisticated, and indeed whether you can then engage the Internet, and if so, how, in circumstances where, of course, publications can be made both within this jurisdiction and outside this jurisdiction, to be read within this jurisdiction.

  • Yes. This is the litany of problems that I do have to address.

  • My short submission, sir, which I accept has limited help is that there is at least a starting point to be gained from looking around the world and --

  • -- taking those into account --

    Those were the very few short matters that we respectfully wanted to raise. Everything else we propose to do we would hope to feed directly into your team and wouldn't need it to be said in opening. Thank you very much.