Liberty director invited onto judge-led inquiry into phone hacking

20 July 2011

Today it was announced that the director of human rights group Liberty will be one of the panel members of the judicial inquiry into phone hacking.

Other panel members are veteran journalist George Jones; former political editor for Channel 4 News Elinor Goodman; former chairman of the Financial Times Sir David Bell; Lord David Currie, former chairman of Ofcom; and former chief constable of West Midlands police Sir Paul Scott-Lee.  The inquiry will be led by respected Court of Appeal judge Sir Brian Leveson and is expected to report within 12 months.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

"It was a daunting privilege to be invited to join Lord Justice Leveson’s panel for such an important public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. My acceptance is a vote of confidence in the vital role of independent judicial process in times of national difficulty. It comes from an optimism in the ability of a great democracy to look itself in the mirror in the spirit of re-building public trust. It reflects Liberty's belief in an appropriate balance between personal privacy and media freedom and above all in the Rule of Law."

The inquiry will look at the phone hacking scandal specifically but also at broader issues involving politics, the media and the police.

In a statement last week Lord Justice Brian Leveson said about the inquiry:

"The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?"

Contact: the press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

 

  1. An inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 proceeds as follows:

 

- Appointment

  • Section 4 provides that each member of the inquiry is to be appointed by the Minister by an instrument in writing, but before appointing a panel member other than the Chairman, the Minister must consult the Chairman.
  • The Minister proposing the inquiry must make a statement (written or oral) to Parliament which must confirm who has been or is to be appointed as Chairman, whether the Minister has appointed or proposes to appoint any other members and the inquiry’s terms of reference (section 6).
  • In appointing panel members the Minister must have regard to the need to ensure the panel has the relevant expertise and to the need for balance in the composition of the inquiry (section 8). The Minister must not appoint a panel member if it appears that the person has a direct interest in the matters to which the inquiry relates or a close association with an interested party unless this could not reasonably be regarded as affecting the panel’s impartiality (section 9).

 

 - Procedure and conduct of the inquiry

  • Section 17 provides that the procedure and conduct of the inquiry are to be directed by the Chairman except insofar as the contrary is provided in the 2005 Act.

 

- Open justice

  • The Chairman must take such steps as he considers reasonable to ensure members of the public are able to attend the inquiry, hear transmissions or obtain or view a record of evidence. But any record or broadcast may only be made at the request of the Chairman or with his permission (section 18). Section 19 of the Act allows for some restrictions to be placed on public access, but only where required by, for example, legislation or where necessary in the public interest (section 19).

 

- Compelling production of evidence

  • The Chairman has strong powers to require the production of evidence, including requiring an individual to attend, give evidence, produce documents etc within a reasonable period (section 21). There are a few exceptions which refer to privileged information. If an individual does not comply he commits an offence (section 35). It is also an offence to distort evidence or prevent evidence from coming to light etc. Where a person fails to comply the Chairman can certify the matter to the High Court, which, amongst other things, can make an order by way of enforcement (section 36).

 

- Reporting on findings

  • The Chairman must report to the Minister on the facts determined by the inquiry and the panel’s recommendations (section 24). Either the Minister or the Chairman must arrange for these reports to be published – the report will be published in full unless, for example, there is a provision of law which prevents publication or publication would cause harm or damage (section 25). Where a report is published it must be laid before Parliament (section 26).

 

2. The director remains in Liberty's employment and neither she nor Liberty will be taking remuneration for this role.