Hacked Off has written to Amber Rudd seeking an explanation following comments she made on Marr over the weekend.
Comments made by the Work and Pensions Secretary suggested that the decision to cancel the Leveson Inquiry before allowing it to finish its work – despite objections from the leading organisation representing British journalists, victims of press abuse and the majority of respondents to the Government’s own consultation on the matter – may have been made before the Government had finished consulting with Chair of the Inquiry Sir Brian Leveson. This may have represented a breach of the Inquiries Act 2005, which requires governments to consult with Chairpersons of Inquiries before cancelling them.
Sir Brian himself was opposed to the Government’s plan to cancel his Inquiry before it had investigated even half of its original Terms of Reference.
Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor has written to the Secretary of State seeking an explanation for the comments made on the Marr programme, in a letter copied to the serving Home and Culture Secretaries and their Opposition counterparts.
Commenting, Kyle Taylor said,
“The Government’s position on Leveson Part Two gradually shifted from a steadfast commitment and promise to the victims of press abuse that the Inquiry would finish its work in 2012 to a weaker and weaker position until they ultimately announced the Inquiry would be cancelled in March 2018.
“That shift was marked by a consultation on completing the Inquiry in which the majority of respondents called for it to be completed.
“Given the Government’s failure to engage with the weight of evidence, public and expert opinion in favour of completing the Inquiry, it would hardly be surprising to discover that the Government had indeed reached a decision to sell-out the victims of press abuse and cancel the Inquiry to appease the largest newspaper publishers long before the decision had been announced in Parliament.
“Secretary Rudd’s comments on the Marr programme appear to raise the specific prospect that a decision to cancel was made before Sir Brian had been consulted, which could represent a breach of the Inquiries Act. I have written to Secretary Rudd seeking an explanation for her remarks.”
Rudd appeared on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday July 14th, where the following exchange took place:
“I’m sure you think that it was wrong to leak those cables but was the Mail on Sunday wrong to publish those cables?”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd:
“No, I don’t think the Mail on Sunday was wrong to publish them, you know we have a very precious freedom of press legislation here. The press has had its difficulties with politicians, politicians have their difficulty with the press and with the police. I was in fact Home Secretary when I worked with Karen Bradley as Culture Secretary not to go ahead with the Leveson 2 because we’d made the progress that we’d made. So, I think we have the right balance.”
Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor’s letter to the Secretary of State says,
“Your comments raise two concerns.
Firstly, I note your comment that you worked with Secretary of State Karen Bradley to cancel Part Two of the Inquiry.
In fact, Karen Bradley ceased to be Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on 8 January 2018. Prior to this date, you were in correspondence with Sir Brian Leveson whose views you were formally obliged to seek (under s14(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005) before reaching a decision in respect of the future of Part Two of the Inquiry.
Sir Brian did not reply to you and Ms Bradley until 23 January 2018. A further meeting then followed between Sir Brian and the new Secretary of State Matt Hancock on 5 February 2018.
If you were to fulfil your statutory obligations under the 2005 Act, you could not have reached a view on the future of the Inquiry until 5 February 2018 at the earliest. Yet on Sunday, you indicated that the decision to cancel Part Two of the Inquiry was made with Karen Bradley, who left her post in early January. This would suggest that the Government had made its decision in respect of cancelling Part Two before it had considered the views of the Chair, as required under s14 of the Act.
I would be grateful if you could explain your remarks on the Andrew Marr programme, and confirm whether the Government had indeed arrived at a decision regarding Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry before full consultation with the Chair of the Inquiry had been completed.
Secondly, you appear to imply that the Leveson Inquiry was established to consider, or might have enforced, restrictions on the freedom of the press. This is not the case.
Part One of the Inquiry was established to consider reforms to the newspaper industry’s system of self-regulation, which would ensure stronger mechanisms of accountability while protecting (and enhancing) the freedom of the press. If Part Two of the Inquiry had proceeded, it would have been able to investigate the corporate governance structures at newspapers where significant illegality had occurred and what reforms may be appropriate in terms of relationships between the press and the police, among other things.
It may even have recommended new public interest defences for some relevant Acts including, conceivably, the Official Secrets Act 1989 (which, given your remarks on the Marr programme, I assume you are in favour of amending to exempt publishers or to provide for a statutory public interest defence). No doubt you are aware that similarly, Part One of the Inquiry recommended an enhanced public interest defence for unlawfully obtaining personal data.
Part Two of the Inquiry was not established to place undue restrictions on newspaper activity, and in any case no inquiry has the power to enact its own recommendations.
I would be grateful if you could explain your position in respect of both points set out above.”
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Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press, and we work with the victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.