U.K. Press Regulation: Justice Leveson Ducks Debate in British Parliament

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Brian Leveson

As the political debate heats up, Hugh Grant describes the British prime minister David Cameron as being "terrified of press barons" and ignoring the plight of victims.

LONDON – Lord Justice Brian Leveson, the judge behind the much-vaunted report into press regulation published after months of evidence taken in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed The News of the World and The Sun, refused to be drawn into the current political debate.

Leveson repeatedly refused to be drawn into the ongoing debate on press reform in evidence to a committee in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

In his first significant public appearance since publishing his report into press standards last November, Leveson told Parliament it would be "absolutely inappropriate" for him to enter the debate.

"I have said all I can say on the topic. Many, many people have asked me to give speeches and keynote lectures -- they come in every week. I'm afraid that what I said on November 29, 2012 remains my view: I've done my best; it is for others to decide how to take this forward. It would be wrong for a serving judge to step into the political domain," he said.

Leveson is scheduled to appear before MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the House of Commons on Thursday to give evidence, as well.

Speaking to The Guardian immediately after Leveson's appearance before the House of Lords, the Commons committee chairman, John Whittingdale, said he and his colleagues had no intention of allowing the judge to duck their questions.

"The committee will give him a pretty hard time. The [proposed] royal charter will be first up. It's not in his report, and yet we are arguing the merits and demerits of it and it is not something he envisaged in his report. It would be quite helpful to know what he thought," Whittingdale said.

"Things have moved on a long way since the publication of his report. The argument now is between the different of regulation, which was not mentioned in his report. It would be helpful to know if he thought if one was compliant or none was compliant with his report."

Leveson, whose report sparked a heated standoff between newspaper groups and politicians, refused on more than one occasion to enter the debate on Wednesday morning.

He said, "I am a serving judge. It would be absolutely inappropriate for me to come back into the question of my report or regulation of the press. I was given a job to do. It was to examine the facts and make recommendations ... I set the facts out in what may be described as extremely tedious detail."

Actor Hugh Grant, the public face of Hacked Off, which campaigns for stronger press regulation, filled the airwaves and news on Wednesday by describing talks to make Parliament's royal charter on press regulation more palatable to newspaper groups as a "betrayal" of promises made by the prime minister to victims of press abuse.

Grant described the British prime minister David Cameron as being "terrified of press barons" and ignoring the plight of victims.

"The victims of press abuse, among whom I do not include myself, people like the McCanns or the Dowlers or Christopher Jefferies, consider that any further compromise would be a betrayal of the promises made by the secretary of state and, above all, by the prime minister to them," he said, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today program. "The prime minister is now betraying those victims and betraying his own promises."

Grant was speaking after it emerged that cross-party talks are to be held over the next two days in a last-ditch bid to persuade the newspaper industry to get behind the royal charter on press regulation that has been ratified by the three main political parties.