Lord Justice Leveson announced today that oral evidence sessions would not start before the second week of November, as Charlotte Church and Jacqui Hames became the latest alleged victims of hacking to apply for core participant status.
Trinity Mirror’s request to be given the same advance access to documents as core participants was also denied at the preliminary hearing, held at court 76 of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Lord Justice Leveson began a morning of discussion ‘intended to identify the way forward for the conduct of this inquiry’ by apologising for the lack of notice, and promising that the dissemination of information would become ‘swifter’ as the Inquiry found its way.
He also stressed his commitment to conducting an ‘open, transparent and fair’ inquiry which could be accessed by the wider public, with evidence sessions being broadcast and resources from the forthcoming seminars being made available. Lord Justice Leveson also wanted to get on with things and ‘move forward’ on the issues with which he had to ‘grapple’, rather than being sidetracked by ‘satellite issues’ which seemed designed only to ‘pin him down’.
Oral evidence sessions were likely to begin in the second week of November, and once started would not stop. David Sherborne, representing the hacking victims, warned against entering the ‘tunnel’ quite as quickly as envisaged, but Lord Justice Leveson hoped to stick to that timetable, give or take a week.
He also announced that he would be inviting applications ‘sooner rather than later’ for core participant status for the remaining modules (dealing with the relationship between the press and the police, and the press and the politicians) of part one of the Inquiry.
Robert Jay QC, counsel for the Inquiry, said that for the first module (looking at the press and the public), all 130 recipients of requests for evidence had ‘engaged’ with the Inquiry, for which Lord Justice Leveson was ‘very grateful’.
The discussion about the Inquiry’s protocols centred on the advanced notice that witnesses could expect. Lawyers representing a number of newspaper groups asked if witnesses could be told about the specific lines of questioning they could expect.
Following an adjournment until 2pm, Lord Justice Leveson said that witnesses would be given notice of the topics arising from their written statements that they could expect to be questioned about, as well as any documents that might be referred to, but not any specific questions. This was, according to Mr Jay, the Inquiry’s counsel, more to do with prudence than fairness, as it would assist the Inquiry’s work.
Lord Justice Leveson was also mindful of the pressure some witnesses might be under, and was happy for some to be introduced to the Inquiry through their own counsels.
Although they were not core participants, Rebekah Brooks, the Metropolitan Police Authority, Telegraph Media Group and Trinity Mirror had all asked if they could receive advance copies of documents being considered by the Inquiry in advance.
Following a lengthy exchange with Trinity Mirror’s counsel, Lord Justice Leveson said it was possible he could introduce a third category alongside core participants and the public, that of ‘interested party’. He had previously said that he did not want a ‘bright line’ dividing core participants from others.
But, he argued, allowing Trinity Mirror the access they wanted would not be blurring the line but removing it altogether, and giving them the benefits of being a core participant without being one. He instead invited Trinity Mirror to apply for core participant status.
The situation was different for Rebekah Brooks, Lord Justice Leveson said in response to her counsel, whose application for core participant status had been denied. If anything raised in evidence directly impacted on Ms Brooks, her counsel would be given advance notice.
The draft protocol note which had formed the basis for these discussions would now be finalised as a result of them, according to Mr Jay.
Three further applications were made for core participant status. Mr Sherborne said that singer Charlotte Church, and policewoman and broadcaster Jacqui Hames, had both had their phones hacked by News Group Newspapers, and applied on their behalf.
From the audience, Elaine Decoulos also applied to be a core participant. Ms Decoulos told Lord Justice Leveson that she had previously submitted evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee after being defamed by newspapers following a court case. Lord Justice Leveson rejected her application but encouraged her to submit evidence to the Inquiry.
The first seminar, designed to ‘spark off’ discussion on ‘The Competitive Pressures on the Press and the Impact on Journalism’, takes place on Thursday.