House of Lords vote to keep Parliament’s promises to press abuse victims

On the evening of January 10th 2018, Members of the House of Lords voted to hold the Government to its commitments to complete the Leveson Inquiry, and bring into force Leveson’s costs-shifting recommendation to provide access to justice for the public.

Amendment 127A was tabled by Baroness Hollins, and will require the Government to complete the Leveson Inquiry.  This was originally promised to victims of police and press corruption and Parliament in 2011, but had to be delayed until criminal trials completed.  Since then the Government have attempted to suppress the inquiry, first by announcing a consultation an then by pledging in the Conservative Party manifesto to scrap it.

Peers voted for this by 238 to 209.

Amendments 147, 148 and 216 were tabled by Earl Attlee, and will bring into force Leveson’s costs-shifting measure to provide access to justice for members of the public who have claims against publishers, protect publishers from litigious bullies, and incentivise news publishers to sign up to an independent recognised regulator.

The costs-shifting provision will only apply to data protection claims.

Peers voted for this by 211 to 200.

The bill will now go to the Commons in the amended form.

Responding to the vote on costs-shifting, Hacked Off Deputy Chair Professor Natalie Fenton said,

“Yesterday’s votes were an excellent outcome for the public, local publishers, and journalists, all of whom would benefit from these reforms.  These reforms will provide new protections for the public from data protection breaches committed by powerful publishing corporations, and for journalists from the chilling effect of wealthy litigants threatening speculative claims.”

“This is good news for freedom of expression, as it encourages the press to sign up to a genuinely independent regulator, free from state and industry interference, and gives local publishers the protections they need from wealthy individuals seeking to avoid negative coverage with expensive claims.”

“These reforms will be welcomed by the victims of press abuse, who have asked for no more than what was promised to them: access to justice for future victims, so that no one again must suffer powerlessness and the deprivation of justice after illegal press abuse.”

Responding to the vote on Leveson Part Two, Executive Director Dr Evan Harris said,

“This vote reaffirms Parliament’s longstanding commitment to get to the bottom of the press misconduct, illegality and corruption scandal, in the face of waves of press pressure and misinformation, and Government equivocation.”

“The victims of press corruption, from the McCanns to the Hillsborough families, deserve to know the truth about the illegal and corrupt practices which occurred, as do the thousands of ordinary victims of data breaches committed by or on behalf of newspapers – not to mention the many more individuals alleging hacking at The Sun newspaper in a civil case beginning next week.”

“We urge the Government to proceed with the second part of the Leveson Inquiry immediately, having heard the will of Parliament over this matter yet again.”

“This vote insists that a promised inquiry into allegations of a cover-up should proceed, and if it was any other industry the press would be at the front of the queue. However, when it is their own conduct that is to be investigated by a judge, they use their megaphone to announce the death of press freedom. Such self-serving hypocrisy is breath-taking from those who usually say sunlight is the best disinfectant.”