On Saturday, the Independent ran a story about Lord Justice Leveson, the senior judge appointed to chair the inquiry into phone hacking by the press.
It suggests that the judge attended two parties held by Matthew Freud, who is married to Elizabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert; one in July last year, and one in January this year. His attendance followed him meeting Mr Freud in his [the judge's] role as Chairman of the Sentencing Council; for which Mr Freud had offered to undertake some free PR work. Apparently, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Prime Minister both knew of this link prior to the public announcement that Lord Justice Leveson had been appointed.
There is much law about judicial bias and impropriety. No-one, not least of all me, is suggesting that attendance at those parties, or dealing with Mr Freud, means automatically that the judge is, or could be, biased, and no-one is suggesting any impropriety. However, this inquiry will be wide reaching. It concerns the relationships between politicians and the press and will look at police corruption - and possibly, wider corruption. We do not yet know the full remit, as the full story is still emerging.
What is absolutely essential, is that the public has faith in the inquiry and the findings it makes. It is difficult to see how the public could have that faith in light of the news of the links - this is all about appearances, and sadly, in this case, appearances can be deceptive and are likely to damage public confidence in the inquiry. Conversely, it would be easy to see how the public could view the link, and how they could extrapolate that the inquiry is a whitewash - an example of the establishment taking care of itself.
What is sad is that Lord Justice Leveson is a bloody fine judge. While I appreciate that the Prime Minister's Communications office is at least a man down, it is a great shame he didn't take some PR advice of his own, and make it clear in his announcement that there is a tenuous link, but that it is irrelevant and why. By staying silent, he has left the newspapers to break it as they see fit, allowed Ed Miliband to use the issue to gain political equity, and has therefore already aroused suspicions about the inquiry, and this fine judge.
There seems to me to be little option but for Lord Justice Leveson to stand down. Not because the law says so (the law, in fact, says this link is too tenuous to be of importance), but because one of the biggest inquiries this country has seen has to be whiter than white, and currently, it is already looking a little too grey to the people that matter - the public.
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