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Royal Charter Appeal Dismissed

By Patrick Mitchell and Alasdair Muller

On 18 March 2013, the government, following the recommendations of the Leveson report, proposed a Royal Charter on press regulation. The Press Standards Board of Finance Limited (PressBoF), the body charged with raising a levy on the newspaper industry to secure financial support for the Press Complaints Commission, developed a rival proposal which it submitted to the Privy Council on 30 April 2013. This rival charter was rejected by the Privy Council on 8 October 2013, in favour of that proposed by the government. PressBoF sought judicial review of the decision, which was rejected by the High Court, as reported here. An appeal of this decision has now also been dismissed.

PressBoF’s arguments for judicial review centred around procedural unfairness, namely: a breach of the right to be heard; a breach of the duty of adequate consultation; a breach of procedural legitimate expectation; conspicuous unfairness; and irrationality in relation to procedural matters.

In particular, with regard to the claimed breach of the right to be heard, PressBoF argued that they had not been supplied with sufficient information regarding the criteria used by the Privy Council in approving the Royal Charter.

The first instance judge, Lord Justice Richards, rejected this argument on the basis that the criteria for such a charter had been the subject of intense debate during the Leveson enquiry and the subsequent report. Richards LJ stressed that the government’s policy in relation to press regulation was equally well known and was reflected in its proposal for a chartered regulatory body. Further, he said, even if the Privy Council had been under a duty to consult PressBoF, their receipt of PressBoF’s rival charter amounted in law to a formal process of consultation. He therefore dismissed the claim.

It has been widely reported that, in dismissing PressBoF’s subsequent appeal, Lord Justice Maurice Kay reiterated that the crucial criteria for the Charter “must have been obvious to anyone in the industry” and were compiled using the “key Leveson principles”.

Separate judicial review proceedings challenging the legality of the Royal Charter itself were on hold pending the outcome of the appeal; it not yet clear whether PressBoF will pursue these proceedings in light of the current dismissal.


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