The Expert Group on the Leveson Report appointed by the Scottish Government has today published its report. It recommended a statutory recognition body with an approved regulator to have jurisdiction over all publishers. It also recommends a statutory “fail safe” with Ministers establishing an approved regulator if none is approved.
The Group said that it built upon the Leveson conclusion that the Regulatory Body must have guaranteed jurisdiction over “all significant news publishers”.
“The principal difference between what we advise and what others have proposed is that the jurisdiction of the Regulatory Body must extend by law to all publishers of news-related material. No publisher of news-related material should be able to opt out of that jurisdiction. In that respect the jurisdiction of the new regime would be universal”.
The Group drew attention to the fact that all important institutions in a democracy,
“are subject to the Rule of Law and to the particular statutory jurisdictions and restrictions enacted by the elected Legislature for each of them; yet they preserve their independence and freedom from political interference in the carrying out of their functions”.
As a result, the Group concluded that We have concluded that there would be no great difficulty in drafting legislation that would achieve ensure that the limited jurisdiction of an independent, non-government regulator is compulsory or is secured by the prospect of direct legislation as the alternative without compromising the fundamental freedom of the press; and have suggested
The Group went on to say that
“If the London negotiations fail to produce the necessary statutory underpinning for a Leveson-compliant Regulatory Body with universal jurisdiction, then Scottish Ministers may consider introducing legislation separately to ensure that those resident in Scotland can be adequately protected from abuse of the kind that the Inquiry identified and examined. We believe that it would be possible for the Scottish Parliament to achieve that object by legislating for the regulation of news-related material circulating in Scotland by any means including electronic publishing”.
It said that Scottish legislation could provide for a separate Scottish Recognition Body but this would not prevent the formation of a single UK-wide Regulatory Body if that was considered appropriate.
The Group produced a draft of a Press Standards (Scotland) Bill to implement its recommendations. Clause 4 provides that a body recognised as an approved regulator “is to exercise its functions in relation to all relevant publishers“
The bill also contains a “failsafe” – which applies if no regulator is approved within 6 months. At that stage, the Scottish Ministers must constitute a body to fulfill the function of approved regulator and submit it for recognition.
These proposals are much more radical than any being considered in London. In particular:
- There is no dilution of the Leveson recommendations – the Scottish recognition commissioner would be directed to apply what is said in the Leveson Report.
- There is a statutory recogniser – the Group has no time for a Royal Charter.
- There is compulsory coverage of all publishers by the approved body. It is not clear what the sanction would be for a publisher which refused to cooperate.
- There is mechanism for the establishment of a regulator by statute if the press do not establish an approved regulator within 6 months.
This report seems likely to give further impetus to those who support statutory implementation of Leveson in England.
The Full Report is available here [pdf]