Lord Justice Leveson has blamed the press for "wreaking havoc with the lives of innocent people" as he called for politicians to legislate to underpin a "genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation" for newspapers.
In a damning report released on Thursday, he said the press had ignored its own code of conduct and showed a "recklessness in prioritising sensational stories".
He insisted that such a move was not "statutory regulation of the press", but called for a new "independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met".
Leveson insisted: "This is not, and cannot, reasonably or fairly, be characterised as statutory regulation of the press."
In a stark threat, Leveson also warned that turning Ofcom into a "backstop" regulator was an option if the industry refused to co-operate with his scheme.
The suggestions - in a hugely-detailed 2,000-page report that also heavily criticised politicians for becoming too cosy with the media - leave David Cameron with a major headache as he seeks to forge cross-party consensus.
He said politicians of all parties had developed "too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest".
Politicians will be required to publish all the meetings they have with senior members of the press, in the new recommendations.
Leveson made direct criticism of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for their lack of interest in the law-breaking of the News of The World, until it hit the headlines, saying: "most responsible corporate entities would be appalled that employees were or could be involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business.
"Not so at the News of the World."
In a statement summing up his inquiry at the Queen Elizabeth II conference hall, Leveson said victims were "not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events, many of them truly tragic, far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."
He said that he realised his proposals could be rejected by the press.
"In the light of all that has been said, I must recognise the possibility that the industry could fail to rise to this challenge and be unable or unwilling to establish a system of independent regulation that meets the criteria.
"I have made it clear that I firmly believe it to be in the best interests of the public and the industry that it should indeed accept the challenge.
"What is more, given the public entitlement to some accountability of the press, I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity."
He suggested that, "in that regrettable event", Ofcom could be "required to act as a backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme".
"It would be a great pity if last-ditch resistance to the case for a measure of genuine independence in oversight of standards or behaviour by the press, or the intransigence of a few, resulted in the imposition of a system which everyone in the industry has said they do not want, and which, in all probability, very few others would actually want to see in place."
And he said politicians of all parties had developed “too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”.
The judge said the press had ignored its own code of conduct in a way that had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people” on far too many occasions over the last decade.
He said there had been a “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories”, irrespective of the harm that may be caused.
Lord Justice Leveson today called for legislation to underpin a "genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation" for the press.
In his report on press standards and ethics, Lord Justice Leveson has called for legislation to provide “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met”.
|@ JGForsyth : Does the Leveson report come under one in, one out? If the coalition regulates newspapers, does it have to de-regulate another industry?|
|@ politicshomeuk : Sir Ming Campbell says there's "a division of opinion in the Coalition, a division of opinion in the Conservative party" on #leveson.|
|@ iankatz1000 : In case u missed, must-read @emilybell: "Leveson cannot deal with is the regulation of the press in the 21st century" http://t.co/sgMlFSHv|
|@ JohnHigginson : The Leveson report is so long it comes in a BOX (at least 5in thick) Arrrgh! #leveson|
Journalists are getting ready for the Leveson lock-in. They will have an hour to read the report before it is published.
|@ SophyRidgeSky : Hope my speed reading is up to scratch. Leveson report said to be 2,000 pages. @amberelliottsky tells me I need to read 16 pages a minute.|
|@ johnprescott : "Time Gentlemen Please" - My exclusive blog for @LabourList ahead of the #Leveson statement http://t.co/t4O93f2U|
Labour's shadow leader of the Commons Angela Eagle makes fun of the fact Cameron and Clegg are making separate statements. "What on earth is happening to collective responsibility?" she asks.
Noting that the play Yes Prime Minister had come to an end, she added: "There is at least still be one farce running in Whitehall."
The government has confirmed that Nick Clegg will deliver his own statement on the Leveson Report after the prime minister.
|@ thomasbrake : Getting one of my rare outings at the Dispatch Box today, safe in the knowledge that anything I say will be buried by Leveson!|
|@ georgeeaton : This week's @NewStatesman leader on #Leveson: state regulation of the press is neither just nor necessary http://t.co/RvnB7Y1o|
|@ Mike_Fabricant : Everyone has a strong view on Leveson's 2000 page report except, errrr, they haven't even read it yet. Give Brian a break!|