Leveson: you, the jury ...
Members of the jury:
You have heard what the learned judge, Lord Justice Leveson, has said in his extensive, 2,000-page summing up, having heard the evidence in the case of The People v The Press.
It is now your task to consider your verdict, not, as you would usually do, on the defendant in the dock, but on m'learned friend himself, His Honour Lord Justice Leveson.
Allow me to assist you, before you retire to the jury room to consider what you have heard. For this is a complex, and in some ways, a puzzling case, unlike any which has come before a jury in this court room before.
First, I would suggest, you will want to consider what His Honour said in regard to the general behaviour of some elements of the Press: "There has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected ..." (Executive Summary, para. 32)
You will recall also, members of the jury, that the learned judge remarked that "when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy ... a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course." (para. 38/9)
I am sure I do not need to remind you what His Honour suggested as a remedy for these disgraceful lapses: an entirely new system of what he called "independent self-regulation", underpinned by new legislation. And you cannot fail to remember his insistence that "this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press." (para 73)
Members of the jury, there are two charges brought against the learned judge. First, that in proposing a legislative under-pinning for his new system of independent self-regulation, he is, in the words of the prime minister, Mr Cameron, "crossing a Rubicon", by which I take it he means moving too far from the hitherto hallowed principle that the Press must remain unfetttered and free from improper political pressure.
The second charge is that the learned judge has failed to take sufficient account of the role of the police in considering the truly appalling events surrounding the illegal hacking of voicemail messages, especially of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
In his consideration of the relationship between certain officers and the News of the World newspaper, he concludes: "I have seen no basis for challenging at any stage the integrity of the police, or that of the senior police officers concerned." He adds, however, that there was, in relation to the investigation of the allegations of phone-hacking, "a series of poor decisions, poorly executed." (para 78)
On the issue of corruption, Lord Justice Leveson says: "The Inquiry has not unearthed extensive evidence of police corruption nor is there evidence ... that significant numbers of police officers lack integrity ... The notion, as a matter of established fact, that this may be a widespread problem is not borne out. The scale of the problem needs to be kept in proportion." (para 91)
Members of the jury, I now have to ask you to consider your verdict. On Count One, do you find His Honour Lord Justice Leveson guilty or not guilty of seeking to embark on a dangerous path towards State control of the Press?
On Count Two, do you find him guilty or not guilty of underplaying the role of the police in the events that led to the setting up of his Inquiry?
Finally, so that there may be no possible misunderstanding, I should emphasise that I make no allegations myself. I merely present them to you in the spirit of encouraging an informed and dispassionate discussion of the issues involved.