Date set for first phone-hack inquiry hearings

The first public hearings in the phone-hacking inquiry will be held in September, Lord Justice Leveson announced today.

He revealed the focus of the initial wave of the investigation would be on the relationship between the press and public, as well as press regulation.

As the inquiry panel held its first formal meeting this morning the judge also sought to quash claims about his links to the Murdochs after it emerged he had social connections with the family.

He said it was “inevitable” that there would be some contacts between the inquiry panel and the organisations that would be under investigation but “there should be no apology for this”.

He added: “Had I the slightest doubt about my own position, I would not have accepted the appointment and I also make it clear that I am satisfied that what the panellists have said creates no conflict of interest for them or for me.”

Lord Justice Leveson indicated the panel could miss the 12-month deadline for producing the first report because the terms of reference “grew very substantially” after the Prime Minister’s initial statement announcing a probe.

He said he would “strive” to meet that deadline, but “not at all costs”.

Public good

Lord Justice Leveson said the relationship the media has with police and politicians would be looked at in “due course”.

He warned witnesses to expect legal letters ordering them to appear before the inquiry.

The notices will be sent out in “waves” but “no discourtesy is intended” and “no conclusions should be drawn”, he insisted.

Lord Justice Leveson was speaking from the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster as the panel met to outline the procedures and time-scale for the first section of the inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

The second section of the inquiry will look at the specific phone hacking allegations that arose in the wake of the scandal at the News of the World but will only begin once police investigation have been completed.

A series of seminars will be held in October looking at law, media ethics and the practice and pressures of investigative journalism for broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “At some stage, there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom.

“I hope that an appropriate cross section of the entire profession, including those from the broadcast media, will be involved in the discussion.”

He added: “It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists then operating at the News of the World, but I would encourage all to take a wider view of the public good and help me grapple with the width and depth of the problem.”

Focus on ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’

All witnesses will be examined under oath, a spokesman for the inquiry said.

The inquiry judge will consult the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure he does not jeopardise on-going legal investigations.

All areas of the media, including broadcasters and social media will be examined during the inquiry.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “The focus of the inquiry is ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ in the context of the latter’s relationship with the public, the police and politicians.

“All of these matters overlap, and my goal must be to consider what lessons, if any, may be learned from past events and what recommendations, if any, should be made for the future, in particular as regards press regulation, governance and other systems of oversight.”

He added: “Formal evidence obtained by exercising statutory power should not be the only way of obtaining evidence.

“I am fully aware that many journalists, papers and magazines have devoted many years of attention to the criminal, unethical and utterly inappropriate behaviour of small sections of the press and I recognise that the present inquiry is in no small part the result of such journalism.

“I could, of course, require journalists to provide me with their files of examples for they are indeed essential to provide a factual background to the important issues that we must discuss but, at this stage, I would rather invite editors, proprietors of magazines and journalists to assist me by providing a wide range of examples of what is contended to be inappropriate for one reason or another across the fullest range of titles.”

‘Robust’ investigation

The inquiry was announced on 13 July by Prime Minister David Cameron, who insisted it would be a “robust” investigation into illegal press practices and police failures.

The single inquiry replaced his previous proposal for two separate investigations and followed discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Inquiry judge Lord Justice Leveson, 62, prosecuted serial killer Rose West, and was the senior presiding judge in England and Wales between 2006 and 2009.

He heads a panel of experts from the legal, media, political and policing professions.

Cameron established the investigation under the Inquiries Act 2005, giving it powers to summon witnesses, including newspaper reporters, management, proprietors, policemen and politicians of all parties.

Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson has written to the inquiry calling for it to examine claims the News of the World hacked the phones of solicitors.

He said: “Quite aside from the breach of privacy for both solicitors and their clients that this would have entailed if shown to be true, the suggestion that the information was gathered specifically to undermine their legal claims against the newspaper introduces new questions about how the practice of phone hacking was used.

“Specifically, if hacking was carried out with the intention of undermining court action, it could constitute an attempt to pervert the course of justice, the seriousness of which I know you will appreciate.

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