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Royal Charter: Final Bid By Newspapers To Block Press Regulation Rejected On Appeal

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LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: A general view of a newspaper stand on Fleet Street on October 30, 2013 in London, England. The publishers of UK newspapers and magazines are at the High Court in London today seeking an injunction to prevent a royal charter being passed on the government's plan for a new press regulation. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) | Getty

Newspaper and magazine publishers have been refused an urgent injunction to stop ministers going to the Privy Council to seek the Queen's approval for a cross-party royal charter to regulate the press.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, sitting with two other Court of Appeal judges, refused to grant an interim order pending further legal action.

The judge said: "I have considered this request with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Elias.

"We are not willing to grant interim relief 'administratively' pending an application for permission to appeal."

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Earlier on Wednesday, two High Court judges dismissed their application to seek judicial review of what they described as the Privy Council's "unfair, irrational and unlawful" decision to reject the newspaper industry's own proposals for a rival charter.

Lord Justice Richards, sitting with Mr Justice Sales, said the merits of their legal case were "at best weak".

The judges refused to grant an injunction to stop ministers going to the Privy Council at 5.30pm today with plans to seek the Queen's approval for the rival cross-party, Government-backed charter", which is bitterly opposed by much of the industry.

The newspaper and magazine industry reacted by saying: "We are deeply disappointed with this decision, which denies the newspaper and magazine industry the right properly to make their case that the Privy Council's decision to reject their charter was unfair and unlawful.

"This is a vital constitutional issue and we will be taking our case for judicial review - of the Privy Council's decisions on both the industry charter and the cross-party charter - to the Court of Appeal."

There is no information yet on when the appeal will be heard.

It remains unclear whether an appeal would become academic once the Privy Council has sat today.

Lord Justice Richards said in the High Court he did not accept that the procedure adopted by the Privy Council could have unfairly prevented the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof) from putting the industry's case case for its rival charter forward.

The judge said: "It is simply that the considerations telling against the proposal were such as, in my view, to make it inconceivable that anything additional the claimant had to say would have made any difference."

Ruling that the balance came down firmly against granting an interim injunction, he said there was a strong public interest in allowing the Privy Council to proceed to consider the Government's proposed charter for which there was cross-party support and which had been endorsed by Parliament.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the court's ruling cleared the way for the implementation of the cross-party charter.

"Both the industry and the Government agree self-regulation of the press is the way forward and we both agree that a royal charter is the best framework for that," the spokesman said.

"We are clear the process for considering the industry royal charter was robust and fair and the courts have agreed. We can now get on with implementing the cross-party charter.

"A royal charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation.

"We will continue to work with the industry, as we always have, and recent changes to arbitration, the standards code and the parliamentary lock will ensure the system is workable."

Hacked Off's executive director, Brian Cathcart, also welcomed today's ruling.

He said: "The big newspaper companies like the Mail and the Murdoch press have been in denial ever since the Leveson inquiry report condemned the way they treated ordinary people and said they needed to change.

"The inquiry judge has told them this. Their own readers - the public - have told them. Their past victims have told them. Every single party in Parliament has told them. Now the courts have thrown out their latest manoeuvre.

"We have to ask: is there anyone at all that Rupert Murdoch and the other arrogant proprietors will listen to?

"The royal charter is good for journalism, good for freedom of speech, and - vitally - good for the public. What Murdoch and his friends are clinging to is the right to lie, twist, bully and intrude, inflicting misery on innocent people. That has to stop."

The rival royal charters are similar in many respects. Both would create a "recognition panel" to oversee an independent self-regulatory body with powers to impose fines of up to £1 million on newspapers for wrongdoing.

But while the newspaper industry's version of the charter would require industry-wide approval for any amendments, the politicians' version could be changed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, sparking fears within the industry that future governments could seek to encroach upon media freedom.

Opening the case for the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), the industry body which funds the regulatory system, Richard Gordon QC told the judges the essence of the claim for judicial review was that the industry's charter "has simply not been considered fairly".

Gordon accused the Government of "rollercoastering through" the politician-backed charter.

He argued that if the Government wished to ensure the confidence of the press and public in press regulation, "it cannot simply ignore the views of the press or not give them fair consideration".

Gordon told the judges: "The public interest in this case lies in the fact that what is envisaged in the Government charter is the possibility of executive control of the press for the first time since 1695...

"That is a huge constitutional shift in our current constitutional arrangements."

The Queen has already been urged by a group of international press freedom bodies not to sign the cross-party charter, and industry sources have called on the Privy Council to reconsider its plans.

Earlier, PressBof chairman Lord Black of Brentwood said the decision to go to court had been made because of the "enormous ramifications for free speech" of the case in the UK and across the globe.

Lawyers for Culture Secretary Maria Miller and members of the Privy Council successfully opposed today's legal challenge on the basis that it was unarguable and lacked any merit.

The Privy Council meeting scheduled for today was called specifically to deal with the press regulation royal charter.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Lord President of the Council, is "definitely" attending, Government sources said.

Roger Alton, executive editor of The Times, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the new regulator supported by the newspaper industry, would be a tough watchdog.

"It is extremely tough, it's a contract-based system. You sign a contract into the regulator and you are liable for extremely severe fines," he said.

"The idea that somehow a deal stitched up between a few politicians over pizzas and a handful of lobbyists from Hacked Off, which is essentially an anti-newspaper group, the idea that such a deal is the thing that now controls the press, which is one of the most vital safeguards in our democracy, I find extraordinarily depressing, very sad... It will be resisted."

Miller said: "Both the press and the Government think that the best way forward is for us to have self-regulation of the press and the principles for that set out in a royal charter.

"The decisions today mean that we can move forward with that and we will continue to work with the industry to make that this is a success."

The minister said a charter was "the best way to resist full statutory regulation, which some quarters are trying to press forward with".

But she acknowledged that it was open to the press not to sign up to a regulator set up under the cross-party royal charter.

She told the BBC: "Self-regulation is exactly that - it's self-regulation and the press obviously can choose to be subject to the royal charter or not, that is inherent in the process."

She added that she hoped the newspapers would seek recognition from the charter for their regulator but "that is something for the press to choose themselves".

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman told the BBC: "I know that there are strong feelings but I actually think that the practicalities are such that the press don't have anything to fear from it.

"They would be able to bring forward their own complaints system and all that this recognising body would do is simply say 'Yes, it's independent, it should go ahead' and just check up on it once every three years to make sure it had remained independent and we didn't have what so frequently happened in the past which was the press saying 'Yes, we'll clean up our act' and then slipping back after a few years."

She added: "You must have redress for individuals if the press get things wrong. You don't have to choose between freedom of the press and protecting individuals from the press doing things wrong.

"We need a strong press to hold to account those in power but the press mustn't abuse their own power and make individuals suffer."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "This is disappointing and it is a pity the Queen has been brought into controversy. Royal charters are usually granted to those who ask for one - not forced upon an industry or group that doesn't want it.

"The important thing is that the press has moved a long way to create a robust new regulator by next spring, taking on board Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations including £1 million fines, orders to make corrections, investigative powers and an independent board with no serving editors in the regulatory system.

"Those who seem to want to neuter the press forget that there are 20 national papers, 1,100 regional and local papers and hundreds of magazines who have not done any wrong but they are willing to submit themselves to the scrutiny of the most powerful regulator in the Western world, so long as it is independent of politicians now and in the future."

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