Leveson Inquiry: Eight ministers to be core participants

Lord Justice Leveson explains the decision to grant "core participant" status to the ministers

Lord Justice Leveson has granted eight government ministers "core participant" status at his inquiry - allowing them advance sight of witness statements.

The ministers are David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Theresa May, Ken Clarke and George Osborne.

The inquiry is set to look at relations between the press and politicians.

It heard that all the Cabinet ministers except Mr Osborne, the chancellor, would give evidence in person.

All but one had already submitted written witness statements.

Core participants can be represented by a barrister and can also seek to cross-examine witnesses and make opening and closing statements.

They must be considered to have potentially played a "direct and significant role" - or have a significant interest - in matters relating to the inquiry or to be potentially subjected to explicit or significant criticism during its proceedings or in its final report.

Those already granted core participant status in the next module of the Leveson Inquiry include media organisations and unions, the Metropolitan Police, former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and MPs who were victims of phone hacking by the News of the World.

'No advantage'

Lord Justice Leveson said that he had requested and ruled on applications for core participant status for the module "some considerable time ago", and that the government's application was "therefore late".

"Forewarned is forearmed" could be a convenient mantra for a government dealing with a range of setbacks in recent weeks not just of an electoral nature.

After Jeremy Hunt's ministerial career was imperilled by the disclosure of documents detailing the closeness of his department and News Corporation during the company's bid for the whole of BskyB, someone somewhere in Whitehall clearly decided to act.

Now, David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and six of their Cabinet colleagues - once they sign a document promising not to leak - will no longer be on the back foot.

They'll have advance warning of any mud other witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry might be seeking to fling their way.

The prime minister should now know early on what Rebekah Brooks intends to say about that police horse and the nature of their exchanges via e-mail and text.

So, there'll be no surprises for David Cameron. But will it ease any potential prime ministerial pain?

But he added that, because the module had not formally opened and he had previously allowed late applications, he was "prepared to address it on its merits".

Lord Justice Leveson said the government's application was "somewhat unusual in form", as ministers were not currently seeking to cross-examine witnesses but were applying for advance sight of witness statements.

He said that James Eadie QC's application on behalf of the government stated that "recent events have underlined and brought into sharp focus the desirability of advance notice".

Last week, Labour called on Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to resign after the inquiry published emails between his then adviser and News Corporation's head of public affairs about the company's bid to take over broadcaster BSkyB.

If the Cabinet ministers had been core participants then, they would have had advance access to the emails and could have argued that parts of the emails should have been blanked out before being made public.

Lord Justice Leveson said Mr Eadie had stated that it was also hoped advance sight of evidence might assist the inquiry by giving witnesses "some time in their busy schedules" to properly prepare for giving testimony.

But the inquiry chairman stressed that the purpose of core participant status was "not to give advantage to core participants".

"There can be no question of access [to witnesses' statements] being sought for the purpose of preparing evidence," he said. But he said the application met the requirements for core participant status.

The ministers would be "collectively be known as 'government core participants'," he said.

Lord Justice Leveson said that the government ministers would have to sign confidentiality agreements, as other core participants had done, and stressed that there should be no leaking of witness statements.

"I mean absolutely no discourtesy to ministers or those who will have to assist them, but the rule must apply to everyone."

The Leveson Inquiry is examining relations between the press, police and politicians and the conduct of each.

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

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