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

Okay. Well, the first issue is one that we've already discussed, which is the problems that are inherent in having redress and standards within the same body, whether that's a regulatory body or a statutory body or a self-regulatory body. So I refer back to the comments that I made on that before.

Secondly, then there is the way in which the function is actually fulfilled. Lord Black's proposal refers to the adjudicators on the complaint committee. We passed over the constitution of an ombudsman scheme, but normally there would be a board, which might have a minority of industry representatives on it but a majority of public representatives. But they do not make any decisions in individual cases. It is their role to appoint the decision-makers.

So I think there's -- the Association is very uncomfortable with the notion of this panel of people making the decision, especially when some of them are serving editors, which, as I said before, is perhaps to confuse the role of the expert witness and the judge, and it's perfectly possible for the decision-makers to be trained and familiarised with the latest developments in the particular area.

There seems to be an element of ambiguity, on my reading of it at any rate, in the proposal about the role of the independent assessor, because there's a reference to the ability for a complainant to appeal to the independent assessor, and in one place it says the independent assessor can determine a different conclusion and refer back with reasoning. But there's another place, I think in the chart, where it sets out the overall structure, which rather implies the independent assessor is inviting these adjudicators to think again. So it's not an appeal in the true sense.

So my own profession, the solicitors' profession, had many decades of trying to wrestle with these problems. The Law Society itself, first of all, dealt with consumer complaints. Then it reconstituted that bit as a thing called a solicitors' complaint bureau, and then it reconstituted that as the Legal Complaints Service. But it never worked out in the end, and we've ended up with a legal ombudsman.

So far as the powers of the redress body are concerned, the proposed body would have power to fine in terms of breach -- or habitual breach of standards, but the highest level of redress that is available to the dissatisfied complainant is a critical adjudication.

Given that the well-off can go to court and secure financial redress, it seems to be a shortcoming in the proposal that the less well-off, who feel that they cannot take the chance of going to court, can end up with no redress.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech