New ten-week consultation announced on Leveson two and press regulation libel cost penalties

Lord Justice Brian Leveson unveils his report following an inquiry into media practices on November 29, 2012. Picture: Reuters/Dan Kitwood

The Government has announced a new ten-week consultation on whether to enforce tough financial penalties on publishers who refuse to sign up to a Royal Charter-backed press regulator.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said it was nearly 1,000 days since Parliament agreed to enforce the Leveson recommendations in full.

These included the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which forces publishers who are not part of a state-backed press regulator to pay both sides’ costs in libel and privacy cases (even if the claims turn out to be bogus).

The Government has been awaiting the conclusion of Leveson-related criminal cases before announcing whether it would commence the press regulation cost penalties.

Watson said it was “deeply regrettable” that the victims of press intrusion now face a further wait for a decision.

The consultation (which opens day) will also consider whether it is necessary to hold part two of the Leveson Inquiry.

The first Leveson inquiry examined the culture, practices and ethics of the British press and published a 2,000-page report in November 2012.

The second part, looking at specific claims about phone-hacking at the News of the World and what went wrong with the original police investigation, was delayed pending the conclusion of criminal prosecutions.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley told the House of Commons: “A free press is an essential component of a fully functioning democracy which is why it was a manifesto commitment of this Government to defend a free press.”

Watson said: “It is 947 days after all parties agreed in Parliament to implement the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry in full.

“The Culture Secretary has said we must wait another ten weeks while all these reforms are discussed all over again.

“We on this side of the House feel they’ve been discussed and debated enough. They should have been enacted years ago. The victims of press intrusion should not have to wait a day longer.”

He said that she had effectively announced a consultation on whether the “cover up” over phone-hacking should be “covered up”.

“It’s my view that events over the last five years make Leveson two more urgent than before.”

In particular he cited the jailing of Sun reporter Mazher Mahmood and the jailing of more than 30 public officials who sold stories to the press.

He asked whether Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the Leveson process when she met with News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch in New York last month and whether she had spoken with the parents of Milly Dowler about it.

Bradley said: “The first people I met in this job regarding press regulation were the victims of phone-hacking with Hacked Off….What we want is effective, robust press regulation therefore we have to look at the situation we find ourselves in today, not five years ago.”

Former Conservative Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said: “In considering how best to proceed we should take into account the significant deterioration in the financial health of traditional media and the closure of titles at a national and regional level.”

And he noted that online media giants Facebook and Google continue to grow “outside the scoop of legislation and regulation altogether”.

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