Tories propose Recognition Panel empowered by Royal Charter to oversee continuing self-regulation of the press

  • 'Recognition Panel' enshrined in Royal Charter to oversee new press regulator

  • Only majority of both Houses of Parliament can change Recognition Panel 

  • Wronged 'groups' to be allowed to complain to new press regulator

  • Civil claims arbitration panel is in the Tory plan

  • Former Supreme Court judge to oversee Recognition Panel

The Conservatives today revealed plans for a Recognition Panel backed up by a Royal Charter to ensure the effectiveness and independence of a new press regulator.

The Recognition Panel would be insulated from Parliamentary interference via a stipulation that its powers could only be changed of there was agreement of the three party leaders and a two thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament.

It is proposed that former Supreme Court justice Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood will chair the appointments committee for the Recognition Panel. This committee will also include one person who “in his opinion” represents the publishers, someone who represents the public and a Public Appointments Assessor.

The Recognition Panel will review the new independent press regulator every three years  - or “at any other time” if it thinks there are “exceptional circumstances”.

The Conservative plan says that the Recognition Panel will only continue to allow self-regulation of the press if the new regulator fulfils a number of criteria.

These  include the following:

  • The new chair and board of the new regulator must be appointed in “a genuinely open, transparent and independent way, without any direction from industry or influence from Government”
  • The appointment panel which picks that chair and board must contain “a substantial majority of members who are demonstrably independent of the press and include no more than one current editor”
  • The board itself will have to comprise a majority of people who are “independent of the press” and contain no serving editor or serving member of the House of Commons
  • The Code of the new regulator must include “appropriate respect for privacy where there is no sufficient public interest justification for a breach" 
  • The actual complaints handling committee should have a majority of independent members and no serving editors
  • The new regulator will be required to hear complaints from groups of people where no single identifiable individual has been identified
  • It will also be ablee to rule on matters of fact where no particular individual has been affected
  • Crucially the board must provide an arbitration service in relation to civil damages claims against subscribers on a “cost-only” basis to members. “The process should be fair and quick, inquisitorial and inexpensive for complainants to use…The process must have a system to allow frivolous or vexatious claims to be struck out an early stage.”
  • Regulator to have power to levy fines of up to £1m.

Culture secretary Maria Miller said: “The Royal Charter would allow the principles of Leveson to be implemented swiftly and in a practical fashion. It would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen, without compromising press freedom.

“I have been clear that the ‘status quo’ is not an option and that we need tough independent self-regulation. Equally, I have said that I have grave concerns about a press bill and am not convinced that it is necessary on the grounds of principle, practicality or necessity.

“The ongoing cross party talks will seek to secure consensus around the Royal Charter.”

What is a Royal Charter?

Royal Charters are granted by the Queen using Royal prerogative powers and are a way of forming a legal, incorporated, body. The Queen grants a Royal Charter based on advice from the Privy Council.

Those appointed to the Privy Council mostly comprise Ministers, other parliamentarians and members of the judiciary, although only serving Government ministers are involved in Privy Council matters for the purpose of recommending and granting a Charter.

The current Lord President of the Privy Council is the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP.

Do they involve a Parliamentary vote?

Royal Charters, because they create a legal entity, become legally binding documents, but unlike a Bill, do not need to be voted on by Parliament.

The initiation of a Royal Charter can take place in different ways. In most cases, an existing organisation can seek to acquire chartered status, and make an application to the Privy Council.

Another example is a state sponsored charter, whereby a body is created for the first time, at the initiation of the Government. If the option of a Royal Charter was used to create the new press recognition body, it would be a state sponsored charter.

What next?

A number of processes would need to be completed before a state sponsored Royal Charter could be granted:

  • Government must approve the presentation of the Charter via its Home Affairs Committee
  • The Privy Council must then meet and recommend to the Queen that the Charter is granted.
  • It is then ‘sealed’ by the Crown Office and will take effect from the date specified in the Charter itself
  • It is also considered desirable for the Government to have conducted a public consultation before a state sponsored Charter is recommended to the Queen.

What other examples of Royal Charters are there?

There are hundreds of bodies in the UK that are incorporated via Royal Charter. Some charters were originally granted centuries ago, others are modern, ranging from simple structures that simple establish a body with minimum rules and requirements to the complex, where detailed provisions are set out for the operation of that body.

They include:

  • Public Bodies (created through a state sponsored Charter such as the new press regulator proposals. Examples include the British Council and various sports and research councils
  • Charities – for example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the
  • Royal Horticultural Society, the Scout Association
  • Universities and Colleges – for example, the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford,
  • King’s College, Imperial College
  • Professional Institutions – for example, the Royal Institute of British Architects
  • (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Chartered Accountancy bodies (CIPFA, ICAEW, and CIMA).

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