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Leveson 2 and section 40 scrapped: government succumb to the power of the press

Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry (colloquially referred to as ‘Leveson 2’) which had been intended to address ‘the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other media organisations’ has been formally canned by the Government.  Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which, had it ever come into force, would have made news publishers who were not subject to a Government-approved regulator, liable for the costs of defamation, privacy, and harassment claims, regardless of whether they won or lost, will now be repealed at the earliest opportunity.

Leveson 2 was postponed back in 2012, to avoid prejudicing the large-scale police investigations into phone hacking and corrupt payments, which were then ongoing. However, by November 2016, the Government were suggesting that, in short, Part 2 was likely to reveal nothing new, and would therefore be a waste of taxpayers’ money. At the same time, it indicated that it was not keen to implement section 40, apparently for fear of damaging Britain’s imperiled local press. Back then, the Government claimed not to have made any firm decisions and launched a consultation to gauge public feeling about the issues (see our blog post here). However, in the snap General Election of 2017, the Tory manifesto promised to drop Leveson 2, and to repeal section 40. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats indicated that they would proceed with Leveson 2.

On 1 March 2018, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, announced that Leveson 2 would be scrapped, and that section 40 would be repealed at the earliest opportunity. Happily for the Government, the results of the consultation apparently supported those decisions, with 66% of respondents against proceeding with Leveson 2, and 79% of respondents backing a full repeal of section 40. There has been outcry at the decisions from campaigners and claimant-lawyers. Predictably, the mainstream press has either trumpeted, or simply failed to cover, the developments. Surprisingly, The Guardian – whose reporting of the phone-hacking scandal had played a huge part in the public outcry which led to the Leveson Inquiry – published a lengthy editorial supporting the decision not to proceed with Leveson 2.  A number of commentators have denounced The Guardian’s stance as a betrayal of phone hacking victims, the public, and the paper’s core values.


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