Court halts press charter battle

Times Series: Newspaper and magazine body Pressbof has been told it can go no further in its battle over a Royal Charter on press regulation Newspaper and magazine body Pressbof has been told it can go no further in its battle over a Royal Charter on press regulation

Newspapers and magazines have lost their bid to continue a legal battle over the rejection of their version of a Royal Charter to govern the regulation of the press.

A senior judge in the Court of Appeal in London today rejected applications brought by newspaper industry body Pressbof for the go-ahead to take its case further in the courts.

Acting on the advice of the Government, the Privy Council granted a charter last October in a form favoured by the three main political parties.

Pressbof argued in the Court of Appeal yesterday that the decision to reject the rival charter was unfair and unlawful.

But today Lord Justice Maurice Kay, vice-president of the appeal court's civil division, ruled that the process was "not unfair or even arguably so".

High Court judges had previously ruled that the Pressbof case was "unarguable".

Dismissing the applications, the judge said it was well known that "self-regulation of the press has been a matter of public controversy for some time".

Following the Leveson report "there was, and remains, controversy as to the way forward".

During the Court of Appeal hearing Richard Gordon QC said Pressbof was not told the criteria and target it had to meet for its charter to win approval.

He said the target "was deliberately camouflaged" and criteria from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) were never made available until it was too late.

Mr Gordon said Pressbof had been "expressly denied sight of the DCMS criteria. We have never seen them despite a promise we would see them".

He said the fundamental reason for the High Court refusing Pressbof permission to seek judicial review last October - the decision it wanted to appeal over - was that Pressbof knew the criteria it had to meet when applying for a royal charter.

Mr Gordon said that was incorrect and reflected "an impressionistic reading of the facts and a misunderstanding of the relevant context".

He said the Pressbof charter was lodged to give effect to the spirit of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations following his public inquiry into the British press in the wake of the News International phone-hacking scandal, and was designed to provide "a scrupulously fair process".

But the judge said today that the core criteria must have been "obvious" to any informed person in the industry, and to say that it was denied the opportunity to put in a charter that would meet the criteria was "fanciful".

The Government has insisted the cross-party charter offers the press the best alternative to a system of full statutory regulation.

Some publications have made it clear they will refuse to sign up to a system underpinned by a politicians' charter.

Earlier this week, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the new press regulatory body backed by almost all national newspapers to succeed the criticised Press Complaints Commission (PCC), named Sir Alan Moses - an appeal court judge - as its first chairman.

Press reform campaign group Hacked Off, which supports the cross-party charter, said Sir Alan's appointment "changes nothing" and described Ipso as a "dreadful insult" to victims of press intrusion.

Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, said: "The appointment of Sir Alan Moses as chair of Ipso changes nothing when the structure and operation of this 'Son of PCC' remain so fatally flawed."

But Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the new chairman and expressed his full support for Ipso and Sir Alan.

Mr Satchwell said: "The way (Sir Alan) handled the difficult issues in the Soham murder trial showed that he knows how to balance the sometimes competing interests of justice, victims and the media as the conduit to the public.

"He was appointed by an open and independent process and his CV shows that neither the public nor the press need have concerns about his reputation for fearless independence and integrity."

Separate judicial review proceedings launched by Pressbof which directly challenge the legality of the cross-party charter have been on hold pending today's ruling.

The judge heard that Pressbof will consider its position in relation to that action over the next seven days.

The chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, Lord (Guy) Black of Brentwood, said: " We're disappointed by today's decision, especially as Lord Justice Kay disagreed with a number of findings of the Divisional Court.

"We will be studying the judgment before deciding our next steps."

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