Leveson Inquiry: Anonymous evidence ruling challenged

Lord Justice Leveson The first phase of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is looking at media 'culture, practices and ethics'

The publisher of the Daily Mail has asked senior judges to consider whether an inquiry into press standards should hear evidence anonymously.

Associated Newspapers said it feared its reputation could be tarred by evidence given anonymously.

The Leveson Inquiry has agreed in principle to hear from journalists who said they feared for their jobs if they were to be named.

The inquiry is looking into the ethics, culture and practice of the press.

Lawyers representing Associated Newspapers, which also publishes the Mail on Sunday, challenged a ruling on the admissibility of anonymous evidence at London's High Court before Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Sweeney and Mrs Justice Sharp.

Mark Warby QC, for Associated Newspapers, told the three judges the inquiry had to be fair, both procedurally and "in respect of the reputation" of Associated Newspapers.

He said the press was "on trial" and he questioned whether it would be fair to allow anonymous evidence which could not be fully tested or challenged.

"The concern is about untested evidence that will tend to tar Associated Newspapers with a broad brush," he said.

In written statements, Mr Warby said the company was not suggesting the inquiry should never grant anonymity to a witness.

"The claimant objects to the decision in principle that certain witnesses should be anonymous because they fear damage to their careers if they are named."

Robert Jay QC, for inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson, said the application for a judicial review was "premature" as the chairman had only agreed in principle to receive anonymous evidence.

"The chairman has not determined whether such evidence should be received in any individual case: indeed, he has made it plain that before making such a determination the application would need to be accorded anxious scrutiny," he said in written arguments.

The judges said their decision would be announced on a date to be fixed.

'Not consistent'

In a ruling on 9 November, Lord Justice Leveson said he would be "prepared to receive anonymous evidence".

He said the inquiry had been approached by a number of individuals, "all of whom describe themselves as journalists working for a newspaper or newspapers", who had asked to provide evidence anonymously and not to be identified to the newspaper or newspapers for which they work or had worked.

Lord Justice Leveson said the journalists feared for their jobs if what they said was attributed to them.

"It is clear that the picture which they wish to paint is not entirely consistent with the picture that editors and proprietors have painted of their papers and they fear for their employment if what they say can be attributed to them," he said.

The inquiry, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, has heard from several newspaper editors and executives this week.

Next week, it will hear from Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, the Guardian's Alan Rusbridger, Times editor James Harding and Richard Wallace, of the Daily Mirror.

Tom Mockridge, who took over from Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International last July, and Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey will also appear.

The Leveson Inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011 amid new revelations of phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World.

A second phase of the inquiry, after a police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World is complete, will focus on unlawful conduct by the press and the police's initial hacking investigation.

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