I don't consider this to be a court, but we will see how we get on. There is no prohibition on the use of live text-based communications, and at least at present I am satisfied that its use does not pose a danger to the interference or the proper conduct of this Inquiry. Unless any difficulty arises, I am happy to make it clear that the use of unobtrusive, hand-held, virtually silent equipment for the purposes of simultaneous reporting of proceedings to the outside world, as they unfold, is entirely acceptable.
On 28 July I made it clear that the Inquiry would start by focusing on the relationship between the press and the public, and I referred to holding a series of seminars so that the issues could be considered from the perspective of all involved. I invited anyone who wished to be identified as a core participant within Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to notify the secretary to the Inquiry prior to 31 August, and I said that I would hold a preliminary hearing to address key aspects of the way in which the Inquiry would be undertaken. This is the first such preliminary hearing.
A number of applications have been submitted in which different parties have sought to be designated as core participants. Some of these applications demonstrate a lack of understanding of the circumstances in which it is appropriate to make such a ruling, the effect of designation, and the extent to which those not designated will or may continue to have a role in the work that is undertaken.
Before hearing applications, which I will do shortly, it is, therefore, appropriate to say something more about how I am minded presently to proceed, subject of course to hearing representations to the contrary.
The first important principle is to identify the scope of what is being undertaken. The terms of reference of the Inquiry are, as I have no doubt you will all have noticed, widely drawn. It is worth repeating that they are split into two, only the first of which I am presently in a position to embark upon prior to the conclusion of the police investigation and the resulting prosecution, if there is to be one.
Part 1, and it's worth just repeating the terms, is as follows:
"1. To inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including:
"(a) contacts and the relationships between national newspapers and politicians, and the conduct of each;
"(b) contacts and the relationship between the press and the police, and the conduct of each;
"(c) the extent to which the current policy and regulatory framework has failed including in relation to data protection; and
"(d) the extent to which there was a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct.
"2. To make recommendations:
"(a) for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media, and its independence, including from government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards;
"(b) for how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including parliament, government, the prosecuting authorities and the police;
"(c) the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press; and
"(d) the future conduct of relations between the police and the press."
This part of the Inquiry, therefore, splits into four elements or modules. The first concerns the relationship between the press and the public, and extends not merely to the allegations of phone hacking but also to other potentially illegal or unethical behaviour.
It will require an understanding of the climate in which the broadsheet and tabloid press are required to operate, and to consider what limits, if any, there should be on what intrusive behaviour is justifiable as in the public interest, either for investigative purposes or because of other public interest, however that phrase might be defined.
The second concerns the relationship between the press and the police, and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest or has become too close.
The third deals with the relationship between press and politicians. Without descending into a detailed examination of the areas covered by part 2 of the Inquiry, which follows the police investigation, it will be necessary to achieve a sufficient narrative of events to form the basis for the fourth module of the first part of the Inquiry, namely recommendations as to the way forward.
I have been asked to report on this part of the Inquiry to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Home Secretary, within 12 months. The breadth of the Inquiry is such that I will have to be extremely focused in relation to those areas on which it will be necessary to hear oral evidence, and I will expect everyone involved in the Inquiry to be similarly focused.
We will limit our approach to the essential, on the basis that if we are to travel along each avenue that we could there is no prospect of concluding the work, even in a very much longer period than that previously envisaged.
Before the evidence starts I shall set out a timetable, about which I shall ask for representations, but I shall then require everyone to adhere to it.
Again, subject to representations to the contrary, I am presently minded to proceed by holding a series of what might be described as teaching sessions to provide to me and to the assessors key factual material on matters that are relevant to the issues which the Inquiry will be considering. Two will be held in public, and concern the existing legal framework governing the operation of the media, including the relationship between Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, data protection, freedom of information, along with the law relating to broadcasting, both at UK and at applicable European level. This will cover both the criminal and the civil law.
Another teaching session is likely to provide the factual material that identifies the relevant regulatory models, the structures and concepts, as well as dealing with Ofcom and broadcasting regulation, including models such as the Advertising Standards Agency, the Information Commissioner, the Financial Services Ombudsman, and any other relevant suggested model.
These are not intended to start the debate, but merely to provide the present picture, the present starting point.
The third teaching session is the only session that I am presently minded to order to be held in private, and that is to provide information as to the technicalities of interception, both of mobile and other phone calls, emails and other forms of covert surveillance. Again it's simply so that I, along with my assessors, can learn what can be achieved, albeit in disregard of the law, in order that we can better understand the issues.
These sessions are not intended to deal with matters of opinion or potential solutions but are factual in content only. Save in relation to the third, as I've said, they will be held in public, and I hope that they will be available either visually or at least in transcript form to the wider public. That's not to say that anyone else will be invited to participate in the sessions. They are simply fact finding, as I have described.
From the teaching sessions, I am presently minded to proceed to a series of seminars of the type that I mentioned on 28 July. For this purpose, I intend to focus initially only on the first module of part 1, to which I've just referred. That's to say the relationship between the press and the public. At the moment, I have three such seminars in mind, and in each case their purpose is very different to the teaching sessions. They will deal with broad public policy issues, and provide an opportunity for experts to make their thinking available to the Inquiry in a collusive way. Because what I want is to invite experts to present papers to spark debate which will inform me, the assessors and, I hope additionally, the public.
Without presently seeking to draft the questions, the first is likely to concern the competitive pressures on journalists, or what might be described as the market economics of the mainstream news media.
There has been some criticism of the fact that none of the assessors has tabloid experience, and I intend that this seminar should make good any deficiency in knowledge or understanding of the pressures facing the tabloid press, not least following the growth of social media and the internet.
I would also wish to deal with issues such as the structures in place that provide oversight to the means whereby stories are obtained, and a check on the legality and ethical propriety of the way in which that story has been obtained. In that regard, the extent to which money changes hands and the oversight of such payments is also highly material.
The second such seminar is likely to be concerned with press ethics and the law, or, to put the same point another way, what is the balance between press freedom and the rights of privacy, and what is the role of the law or regulation in maintaining standards on the one hand and defending the essential freedom of the press on the other.
Are ethical principles common to all, or are there differences? To what extent should journalists or their editors be held accountable for their decisions about what is perceived to be in the public interest?
The third seminar will cover regulatory structures and examine the advantages and disadvantages of different regulatory approaches, including self-regulation. The issue extends to consideration of what a different system might look like, whether it could provide a reasonable system of remedies for those whose rights have been impugned or those who wish to assert that their rights have been impugned. It will obviously include the risks of a consequential chilling effect on the press; who should take the decision as to the balance to be struck between competing public interests, and to whom are such people accountable.
So that describes or sketches out my present view of the seminars, which I hope will again be open to the public and all concerned with the Inquiry, and will generate public debate.
Again, subject to argument, I'm minded to seek to use them to encourage not only interested professional parties but also members of the public to provide the Inquiry with evidence of their views, and I intend to look for ways in which I might achieve that end. It's only after these seminars, when we have seen what the present position is and seen the views as to what the future might look like, that we will then be ready to take evidence and seek to provide the narrative both for the thrust of what has been happening but also for the wider recommendations that I have to make.
Furthermore, after the evidence has been concluded, it's probable that I'll seek to embark upon a further series of seminars to gather together the various strings that have been floated in the preceding weeks and months.
Either immediately following this work or potentially concurrently with it, I shall embark on a similar series of exercises in relation to the relationship between the press and the police, and in relation to the press and the political class. At this stage I don't provide further detail as to those seminars.
The reason I have gone into such detail in respect of the press and the public first of all is because it's where I intend to start, but it's also to underline not only that certain applicants for core participant status may well be focusing on the wrong module and need only make application for part of the Inquiry, but also to make the point that no-one should be applying for this status on the basis that otherwise their point of view will not be heard.
In at least one inquiry recently conducted, expert evidence was provided by those with strong views on the issues, and some such persons were also allowed to submit written representations to the inquiry at its conclusion, which the chairman made it clear he would consider without obviously being bound by them. I am prepared to consider a similar approach for interest groups in this case.
So with that rather long run-up to the wicket, I turn to the question of core participation.
At this stage I am concerned with core participants for the first module, the press and the public. A decision in favour of such status does not necessarily mean that a party so designated will remain a core participant throughout the Inquiry. Rule 5.3(b) of the Inquiry Rules 2006 specifically provides that a person shall cease to be a core participant on a specific date that I specify.
Similarly, a decision not to award core participant status does not preclude a further application at a later stage of the Inquiry.
As to who should be a core participant, provided such person consents I need only refer to Rule 5.2 of the Inquiry Rules, which does not provide me with an exhaustive list of what I might take into account when making the decision, but does require me in particular to consider whether the person played or may have played a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the Inquiry relates, whether the person has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the Inquiry relates, or the person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the Inquiry proceedings or in the report or in any interim report.
As to this last feature, I remind everyone that my remit in part 1 of the Inquiry is different to that in part 2, which must follow any prosecution and which is more concerned with who did what to whom and who knew about it, rather than the wider issues to which I have referred.
It's clear from some of the material that has been submitted to the Inquiry that it's believed that core participant status will provide rights to documents, to making opening and closing submissions which, as to closing submissions, I have dealt with, and the right to cross-examine witnesses.
As to documents, the Rules do not specifically provide for disclosure of documents to core participants, and I know of no suggestion they have an absolute right to see all the documents that the Inquiry proposes to use, although fairness is likely to require such disclosure both to core participants and affected witnesses and their representatives.
In any event, the majority of documents will be placed in the public forum. I intend, as I have always made clear, that this Inquiry should be as transparent as it is possible to make it.
Finally, in relation to Rule 10 of the Inquiry Rules, it is clear that subject to exceptions, any witness giving oral evidence will only be questioned by counsel to the Inquiry. Rule 10, subsection 2, permits me to direct that the legal representative of any witness may be permitted to ask the witness questions, and Rules 10.3 and 4 also gives me discretion to allow core participants or other legal representatives to cross-examine relevant witnesses.
Again, I will hear submissions on this topic, probably at a subsequent preliminary hearing, but given the pressure on the Inquiry I may well require these issues to be raised with counsel to the Inquiry, who will then be able to conduct such cross-examination as he believes is appropriate, and at the very least restrict other cross-examination. The process is, after all, inquisitorial.
What I have been trying to say, therefore, is that there is no bright line between core participants and others affected by the Inquiry.
Before hearing representations, however, I ought to say one other thing about the subject of costs. I am aware that the ministers responsible for this Inquiry intend to give directions in the form of a determination under Section 40, subsection 4 of the Inquiries Act 2005. Until I have received those directions I don't intend to make any order for funding, although I do underline that Rule 21 of the Rules mandates that I must take into account the financial resources of any applicant, and if any applications for funding are to be made, I shall require full details so as to ensure that hard-pressed public funds are being deployed only in accordance with the law, and the proper exercise of my discretion.
I anticipate that the Solicitor to the Inquiry will issue a protocol dealing with this issue very shortly.
I will make a decision about core participation within the course of the next few days, but intend to thereafter invite submissions as to funding requests within seven days of that designation.
There will, as I have intimated, be a further hearing before the end of the month to deal with this and some of the matters to which I have referred this morning.
So with those rather lengthy introductory remarks, I am now very interested to hear from others, and more specifically from those who wish in the light of what I have said to pursue applications for core participant status.