POLITICS

Royal Charter Press Regulation 'Probably Illegal' Under EU Law, Says Telegraph Director Lord Black

26/03/2013 00:10 GMT | Updated 26/03/2013 11:41 GMT

The royal charter system for the future regulation of the press agreed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband is probably "illegal under European law", the executive director of the Telegraph Media Group has said.

Lord Black of Brentwood, who is also chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, savaged the cross-party plan for the future regulation of the press as peers agreed the cross-party plan without a vote last night.

He told the House of Lords the proposals were "wrong in principle and fundamentally flawed" as well as "almost certainly contrary to European law" and therefore would collapse or be struck down.

Lord Black said the amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill which had been introduced to bring in the new regulatory regime "deal with problems of an analogue past".

"They are a constitutional nightmare. This late-night legislative fix will end up bringing discredit to us because we should have spent time analysing, scrutinising and amending them," he said.

"These far-reaching proposals have had no analysis or study anywhere and certainly not by Leveson. I understand that criticising Sir Brian Leveson is akin to criticising Florence Nightingale, but his inquiry utterly failed to scrutinise the key legislative issues that arose from it."

The three main party leaders have been criticised by opponents of the new regulatory regime for the press for finalising the plan in the early hours of last Monday morning.

Lord Black said: "Everything about these proposed new clauses is wrong. They were cobbled together late at night over pizza, with no thought for the legal and constitutional issues involved. They exhibit no understanding of the digital world into which all publishers are moving.

"They are alien to decades of English law, and almost certainly illegal under European law. They would provide a serious blow to investigative journalism.

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"They would disproportionately impact on smaller publishers and, in particular, the regional press. If ever there was a case where this House should have asked the Government and the other place to think long and hard, and to take their time studying the massive implications of what is being proposed, it is this."

The plans have also been heavily criticised by bloggers who fear the new rules will unfairly lump individuals or small groups of writers in with the larger online publications such as The Huffington Post.

In a hastily drafted amendment to the Bill, the government moved to exempt "small-scale bloggers" from the new system while capturing the "more sophisticated, press-like online material".

But Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws said Lord Black, who sat on the Press Complaints Commission, should not criticise the proposals in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry given he "was basically hugger-mugger with those who were not really interested in what was happening to the victims of press excesses".

The Labour peer and human rights lawyer addd: "This is a moment for this House to reflect on the fact that over the past few months, while Lord Leveson was conducting his hearings and since he reported, there have been regular polls, and every poll conducted with the public showed that they want to see a proper regulatory framework.

"Indeed, all the polling indicates that the public support Lord Leveson’s report. More recently, as agreement has been reached across parties this week to create the framework that we are discussing tonight, all the polling indicates that the public want something of this sort to happen. So we should welcome it."