This week has felt like another seminal one in the phone hacking saga. Eight people have been charged – including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, Rupert Murdoch has resigned from News International’s Board – another step in the process of Murdoch-ian withdrawal from UK newspapers, and the oral hearings of the Leveson Inquiry Part 1 concluded.
But reports of the end of the Leveson Inquiry are premature. There is still a long way to go, both the inquiry and its aftermath. For the Inquiry, the hard work of Part 1 does, as Lord Justice Leveson said this week, start here. The judge and his panel will disappear for the next three months to beaver away on a report and recommendations. This they will present – some time around late October – to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media Sport (yes, Jeremy Hunt if he is still there), and the Home Secretary (currently Theresa May), for consideration by the government.
If the report contains recommendations for the use of statutory mechanisms, then the government will need to decide if it wants to accept those recommendations and, if so, how to get legislation through the House. The most obvious vehicle would be the Communications Bill, a white paper for which is due early next year. Were the Leveson recommendations to be included in this white paper, they would then go out for consultation in 2013 with a view to being announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2014. After which the Bill would be debated by Parliament.
Then there is Leveson Part 2. This appears to have been forgotten by many of those reporting on this week’s hearings. Yet Part 2 was – originally – the meat of the Inquiry. It was the who did what, when and to whom. The nitty gritty detail of wrongdoing and malpractice.
The terms of reference for Part 2 read:
3. To inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other newspaper organisations and, as appropriate, other organisations within the media, and by those responsible for holding personal data.
4. To inquire into the way in which any relevant police force investigated allegations or evidence of unlawful conduct by persons within or connected with News International, the review by the Metropolitan Police of their initial investigation, and the conduct of the prosecuting authorities.
5. To inquire into the extent to which the police received corrupt payments or other inducements, or were otherwise complicit in such misconduct or in suppressing its proper investigation, and how this was allowed to happen.
6. To inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations, and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to any failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International
7. In the light of these inquiries, to consider the implications for the relationships between newspaper organisations and the police, prosecuting authorities, and relevant regulatory bodies – and to recommend what actions, if any, should be taken.
Part 2 necessarily had to be postponed so that it did not prejudice the prosecution of any of those alleged to have committed offences. Now eight people have been charged and those prosecutions are going ahead. These will be completed, at the earliest, by the beginning of 2013 – according a lawyer close to the proceedings. More likely, given the amount of information to go through and the complexity of the cases, they will continue until next summer or even the autumn.
Depending on the progress of those prosecutions and the extent to which they lead to disclosure of information about who did what when, then a decision will be made on whether to go ahead with Part 2. Although it should be noted that such a decision is not within the power of Lord Justice Leveson. It is for the government to decide. Right now, there is an obligation to go ahead.
Undoubtedly the news organisations involved will not be keen for Part 2 to happen. It is likely to be as – if not more – painful for them than Part 1. It will involve naming senior executives and journalists who commissioned phone hacking and other illegal methods of gathering personal information. It will mean looking in detail at the multiple failures of corporate governance at News Corporation and elsewhere. It will mean exposing the corrupt payment of officials across all areas of public life – as claimed by DAC Sue Akers at the Leveson Inquiry on 27th February. Nor, for this reason, will it be comfortable for the police or politicians.
Still, neither the press, nor the police, nor politicians, wanted there to be a public inquiry at all. They may not want Part 2, and may well rail against it, but right now it is happening, whether they like it or not. The Leveson Inquiry is far from over yet.