11 JAN 2017

The Crime and Courts Act 2013

Statement by Helen Grant MP on triggering Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013

This week sees the close of the Government consultation on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, today's written ministerial statement demonstrated the broad interest which this attracted with over 140,000 individual responses received. For those unfamiliar with the legislation we are talking about regulation of the press and the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.

Boiling the issue down to simple terms; the press are being asked to sign up for regulation by bodies approved under a Royal Charter by the Press Recognition Panel. The carrot for doing so is that they would be exempt from paying their opponents' legal costs, even if they lost a court case. The stick is that newspapers outside a recognised self-regulator would pay their own and their opponents' legal costs, even if they won a court case.

I can understand the industry's general resistance to regulation, citing the need to preserve the freedom of the press and their role as a valid check and balance in our democracy. Let's remember however for a moment that the whole contemporary issue of press regulation stemmed from the Millie Dowler phone hacking scandal that eventually brought down the News of the World. It is therefore evident that there are occasions when the press need to be held to account by an external, independent organisation.

Until very recently the whole issue of Section 40 was academic because there was no charter approved regulator in existence. In October, however, an organisation called IMPRESS was authorised as the first charter approved regulator and that has catalysed the need to review the implementation of section 40.

The organisation is funded (indirectly through two charities) by a person with a long personal track record of opposition to the press. Having Max Mosely in a position of such influence within the Britain's only approved press regulator is as offensive as putting Nigel Farage in charge of UK immigration.

In view of this connection I cannot believe that IMPRESS was able to gain recognition and I find the prospect of any title having to sign up to it in return for costs indemnity as unconscionable.

Furthermore, it seems contrary to the fundamental principles of our legal system, indeed outrageous, that an organisation could be found not guilty of libel yet still be liable for the costs associated with the case.

I have written to Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, outlining my concerns about this and I trust that she will think long and hard about the broader implications of section 40.

A free press is a critical pillar of our much cherished liberal democracy and all of us who value it must fight tooth and nail to protect the independence of the press. I receive a regular postbag from constituents on both sides of the argument which proves to me that this is not an issue confined to industry stakeholders and legislators.

Ultimately we need a practical solution which is palatable to all sides, protecting both the public and press freedoms. Hopefully the government consultation will produce the suggestions we seek.

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