David Cameron and Leveson 2: The Promises

Posted: April 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

By Professor Brian Cathcart

Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry is meant to investigate the true scale of press lawbreaking and who is responsible, and also to look into police corruption – matters that were under police investigation at the time Part 1 was sitting and so could not be addressed.

Today the government’s formal position is that it has not made up its mind whether to proceed with Part 2. In a written parliamentary answer last year Home Office minister Mike Penning said:

‘The Government has been clear that a decision on whether to undertake Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry will not take place until after all criminal investigations and trials related to Part 1 are concluded. As these are still ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.

This already constituted a substantial retreat from the position adopted by David Cameron in 2011-13, when he stated unequivocally that Part 2 would go ahead.

Worse still, reports in the Times and the Daily Mail say that ministers have privately decided to shelve Part 2. These reports showed every sign of being the result of government briefing.

In January this year Culture Secretary John Whittingdale hinted strongly in an interview that the government was minded not to initiate Part 2 on the grounds that some press bribery trials ended in acquittals.

Hacked Off has explained the absolute necessity for Leveson Part 2 elsewhere. Here we demonstrate that if David Cameron fails to initiate Part 2 once the last of the criminal proceedings is complete, he will be breaking promises made to Parliament, to victims of press abuse and to the country.

A two-stage inquiry was promised from the outset

From the first day the Leveson Inquiry was discussed in public, even before its chair was appointed, it was known that it would have to have two parts.

On 6 July 2011 the then Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, told the House of Commons:

‘It is precisely because of the gravity of the allegations now being made that the Prime Minister announced only a short time ago that there would be a fully independent public inquiry, or set of inquiries, into these matters, but that must not jeopardise any criminal investigation. It is therefore likely that much of the work of the inquiry will be able to start only once the police investigation and any prosecutions that might result from it are concluded.’

Five days later (11 July), giving the details of the inquiry that had by then been agreed with the other leading parties, David Cameron confirmed to MPs that the inquiry would have two phases. The first would tackle the culture, practices and ethics of the press, the failure of regulation and the conduct of politicians, and it would make recommendations about future regulation and about the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press.

And then:

‘The second part of the inquiry will examine the extent of unlawful or improper conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers, and the way in which management failures may have allowed it to happen. That part of the inquiry will also look into the original police investigation and the issue of corrupt payments to police officers, and will consider the implications for the relationships between newspapers and the police.’

The terms of reference of the inquiry, issued the same day, set out seven distinct matters to be investigated. The first two were dealt with by the Leveson Inquiry in 2011-12 while the remaining five were explicitly reserved for Part 2.

As Mr Cameron said:

‘The part of the inquiry which is, for instance, investigating allegations of police corruption or investigating the hacking at the News of the World, must wait for the police investigations to be carried out, for prosecutions to be carried out and, as I understand it, for any appeals to be lodged. That is one of the reasons for having one inquiry with two parts . . . 

And:

’Clearly, one thing that the second part of the inquiry will consider, as well as the first police investigation, what went wrong and why it was insufficient, is the review of that investigation and why it did not result in further action.’

Cameron’s categorical promises

Seventeen months later, on 29 November 2012, the day the first phase of the inquiry delivered its report, David Cameron repeated to Parliament that there would be a second part to the inquiry:

‘When I set up the inquiry I also said that there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation. That second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.’ 

He also explicitly invoked – and endorsed – the wishes of victims of press abuse: 

‘One of the things that the victims have been most concerned about is that Part 2 of the investigation should go ahead—because of the concerns about that first police investigation and about improper relationships between journalists and police officers. It is right that it should go ahead, and that is fully our intention.’

3 comments

  1. Michael Berger

    The reply from my MP

    Thank you for contacting me about the Leveson Inquiry.

    The Government is committed to supporting a strong, independent and effective self-regulatory system for the press that commands the confidence of both the public and the industry.

    Regarding Part Two of the Leveson Inquiry, criminal proceedings connected to the subject matter of the Leveson Inquiry, including the appeals process, have not yet been completed. The Government has always been clear that these cases must conclude before Part Two of the Inquiry can be considered.

    The Government has implemented the cross-party agreement that was made in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, through the Royal Charter and the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The exemplary damages measures commenced last November and a framework has been delivered for a new system of independent press self-regulation.

    There is no doubt that exemplary damages are a serious sanction; the protection offered by the introduction of this measure provides a real incentive to encourage publishers to sign up to a recognised self-regulator. The commencement of cost provisions is still under consideration. This will be a serious and significant change for the industry, and a matter of particular concern to many small publishers who had absolutely no involvement in the abuses the Leveson Inquiry was set up to tackle. Parliament did not set a commencement date for cost provisions (as they did for exemplary damages measures), so it is for the Government to use its discretion.

    I want to see the press voluntarily comply with the reforms recommended by Sir Brian Leveson and enshrined in the Royal Charter. The new framework that has been set up protects our vital freedom of press but at the same time offers real redress when mistakes are made. The Press Recognition Panel, which formally recognises the press self-regulators, has been set up and is currently considering its first application.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

    Best wishes,

  2. Dave Tomlinson

    “In January this year Culture Secretary John Whittingdale hinted strongly in an interview that the government was minded not to initiate Part 2 on the grounds that some press bribery trials ended in acquittals.”

    I do struggle to understand how the people who received the bribes were guilty but those who offered and paid them were not.

  3. joan read

    It is imperative that Leveson is implemented in full .asap as government delays only fuel public distrust in government promises as is shown by the current situation. Why were the news papers not publishing the story as usually this would be front page news