When was the Inquiry set up? And by whom?

The Inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson was announced in the House of Commons on 13 July 2011 by then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, following consultations with the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour party’s Ed Miliband. A few days later, the Terms of Reference were published, and on 28 July Lord Justice Leveson was formally appointed chair by letter from the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

What was the Inquiry about?

The Leveson Inquiry was set up to examine the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’ in the UK.

The trigger for the Inquiry was the revelation that News of the World reporters hacked the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, and that case was examined closely in evidence. Phone hacking began in the late 1990s and the first arrest was made in 2007, but the matter was addressed mainly in general terms because criminal proceedings were under way.

Other events of the early 21st century to be examined included the McCann case and the data-theft operations referred to under the general heading of Operation Motorman. The Inquiry considered the actions of journalists and editors, and also of the Press Complaints Commission, the Information Commissioner, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Inquiry also examined the history of journalism regulation going back to the 1940s, including the record of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and of the Calcutt inquiries of 1990-1994. In its scrutiny of relations between politicians and the press, evidence was heard from four prime ministers and there was also discussion of Rupert Murdoch’s relations with Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s.

It was meant to be a two-stage inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. Part 1 would inquire into ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ and make recommendations for a new regulatory system. Part 2 would look closely at criminal conduct and would convene only when relevant criminal proceedings were complete (until then these matters would be sub judice and therefore could not be examined in a public inquiry forum).

Who is Lord Justice Leveson? And who were the other key people in the Inquiry team?

Aged 62 in 2011, Sir Brian Leveson was, as a Lord Justice of Appeal, a senior judge. Born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford he became a barrister working mainly in criminal law, notably prosecuting the murderer Rosemary West in 1995. He became a High Court judge in 2000.

The chair was assisted by six expert ‘assessors’, who ultimately gave unanimous backing to his recommendations. They were: Sir David Bell (a former journalist and manager at the Financial Times), Shami Chakrabarti (then director of the human rights organisation Liberty), Lord Currie (former chair of Ofcom), Elinor Goodman (former Channel 4 journalist), George Jones (former Daily Telegraph journalist), and Sir Paul Scott-Lee (a former police Chief Constable).

Three barristers – Robert Jay QC, David Barr and Carine Patry-Hoskins – asked the questions in the public evidence sessions on behalf of the Inquiry. Also legally represented at the Inquiry – meaning that one or more barristers were present to ask questions on their behalf – were ’Core Participant Victims’ (see below), a number of newspaper groups, some police forces and some others.

Many people made written submissions to the Inquiry. Some of these, and some others, were invited to give evidence in person. They were each also required to make a written statement answering questions from the Inquiry. Giving evidence, they were questioned first by barristers for the Inquiry and then, sometimes, by barristers for other represented groups.

Where and when did the Inquiry take evidence?

The inquiry issued a call for written submissions in August 2011 and hosted a series of public seminars in September and October at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster before opening its formal evidence hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London on 14 November.

In nearly nine months of oral hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence in person and the statements of nearly 300 others (individuals or groups) were read into the evidence without them being called. For a full list of witnesses, see the People section of this website.

The Inquiry’s public hearings had four phases, referred to as modules: 1, the press and the public; 2, the press and the police; 3, the press and the politicians; and 4, potential regulatory solutions.

Who were the Inquiry’s Core Participants?

Inquiry chair Lord Justice Leveson designated a list of Core Participants entitled to legal representation. These were individuals and organisations who were chosen on the basis that they:

  1. Played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry related.
  2. Had a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry related.
  3. May have been subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in an interim report.

The list of Core Participants designated by Lord Justice Leveson included: News International, the Metropolitan Police, Northern and Shell Network Ltd, Guardian News and Media Ltd, Associated Newspapers Ltd, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media Group, and the National Union of Journalists. In January 2012 Surrey Police were added to the list of Core Participants.

In addition, the list included 51 individuals designated as Core Participant Victims – politicians, sportsmen, other public figures, and members of the public who may have been victims of media intrusion.

What was the Report? And what did it recommend?

Lord Justice Leveson’s 1,987-page final Report was published in four volumes on 29 November 2012 along with its accompanying 48-page Executive Summary.

The Report contained 92 Recommendations 47 of which related to ‘Regulatory Models for the Future’ and ‘Recommendations for a self-regulatory body’. It was recommended that this proposed new self-regulatory body, which would replace the PCC, would have the power robustly to investigate alleged press wrong-doing and to impose sanctions where appropriate, while its work would itself be monitored by a newly formed ‘recognition body’.

Other Recommendations covered ‘The Press and Data Protection’, ‘Regulation by Law’, ‘The Press and the Police’, ‘The Press and Politicians’ and ‘Plurality and Media Ownership’.

In his remarks on the day of the Report’s publication, Lord Justice Leveson noted, “I hope that my recommendations will be treated in exactly the same cross-party spirit which led to the setting up of the Inquiry in the first place and will lead to a cross-party responses.” He concluded: “The ball moves back into the politicians’ court: they must now decide who guards the guardians.”

What happened after the Report was published?

The Inquiry Recommendations in relation to regulation, once published, were considered in cross-party negotiations which led to agreement on, and Parliamentary approval of, the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the Press, closely following the terms of the Recommendations. This in turn led to the establishment of the Press Recognition Panel, which in October 2016 formally recognised its first regulator, IMPRESS.

Parliament also passed measures in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 giving effect to Recommendations on costs, arbitration and access to justice, but in 2015 the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale declined to give these effect. Their future remains uncertain. Most of the press industry rejected the Charter and instead set up IPSO, a self-regulator closely following the proposals put to the Inquiry by Lord Black and Lord Hunt, proposals rejected in the Report.

The Recommendations relating to data protection were not implemented. In February 2018, it was confirmed that Part 2 of the Inquiry had been cancelled (see below).

What was Leveson Part 2? And why was it axed?

The Terms of Reference of the Leveson Inquiry foresaw two phases. The first, which took place in 2011-12, concerned itself with press ethics and practices and with recommending reforms of regulation. The second was to look at criminality in the press, its connections with politics and the police, who was responsible and how such failures of corporate governance could have occurred.

Part 2, it was always known, would be delayed because ongoing criminal proceedings made the matter sub judice. Only when all the relevant trials and appeals were over could it begin. Most of the press industry wanted Part 2 scrapped, arguing that the facts about criminality had emerged fully at the various phone hacking and bribery trials.

After the last of the relevant cases ended in 2016, the then Conservative Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced a public consultation on whether Part 2 should go ahead and whether Section 40 (the proposal included in the Leveson Recommendations which would enable judges to require newspapers to pay the costs of legal action against them, even if they had won, if that publisher did not participate in recognised regulation) should be commenced. Before the outcome of this was announced, the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 general election declared that both should be cancelled.

Although Sir Brian Leveson asserted that Part 2 should go ahead, in February 2018 the Culture Secretary, Matt Hancock, cancelled It, and in May 2018 an attempt to overturn the cancellation in the House of Commons failed by nine votes.

What is the relevance of the Leveson Inquiry today?

Understanding the role of journalism in society has never been more important than today, and that was the underlying task of the Leveson Inquiry. In a world of ‘fake news’ and of sharply divided opinion, journalism can struggle to understand its mission and to carry it out. The Leveson Inquiry heard evidence from a remarkable variety of sources on what should be expected from journalists, how journalists contribute to society, what freedoms they require and when they may be constrained.

When should journalists simply report what they hear, and when should they challenge it? In what circumstances is it right that they should campaign and take sides, and if they do so what are their obligations? Do they need to give the whole picture, or can they pick and choose what to tell people? Should they ever break the law? These are pressing questions for today and there is no better place than Discover Leveson to find the answers.

It may be some years since the Leveson Inquiry ended its sessions and reported, but it remains a live issue, frequently referenced in debates about the press and journalism. It surfaced in the controversy about Sir Cliff Richard’s case against the BBC, and its recommendations and its second base were debated in Parliament in May 2018. Arguments about journalism and its relationship to society is nothing new, and they will continue as long as there are journalists to challenge the way people think. Those arguments have never been explored as they were at the Leveson Inquiry.

And finally, the bottom line: how much did the Inquiry cost?

The overall costs of the Inquiry totalled £5,442,400.


Understand all the key topics and the context behind the Inquiry's findings

Journalism & society
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Future of journalism
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Background & history
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Subsequent developments
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Ethics & abuses
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