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Column: Nobody here can ever be above the law
Here’s something to be proud of, in addition to England’s performance (so far) in the Euro 2012 finals: the Leveson Inquiry into the press and politicians.
I’m not joking. The inquiry, under Lord Justice Leveson, was set up following the disclosure that the telephone of Milly Dowler, the schoolgirl murdered in 2002, may have been hacked by the News of the World.
Since the inquiry started to hear oral evidence in November 2011, editors of nearly every major national newspaper, cabinet ministers, former ministers, the leader of the opposition, three former Prime Ministers, and Mr Cameron have all been witnesses.
I had my own three-hour grilling by the inquiry in mid-May.
In contrast to the Iraq Inquiry, I am not in any way ‘in the dock’ for this inquiry.
There have been no allegations that I hacked anyone’s phone, nor that my relationships with sections of the media were too close.
I was asked to give evidence primarily because I’d given a major lecture last July about the future of press regulation, and because of changes I’d sought in the Human Rights Act, and the defamation law to assist the press.
Even though my session would be straightforward, I had to prepare very carefully.
The inquiry sent me five pages of questions; all very polite, but their letter of ‘request’ ended with a warning that if I failed to answer, or provide relevant documents, Lord Justice Leveson could order me to do so.
He has the powers of a court. Evidence is given under oath; knowingly tell the Inquiry untruths, and a charge of perjury would follow.
Why am I proud about all this happening?
Because, as a foreign friend observed to me this week, it’s hard to name a single other country which would put major press barons as powerful as Rupert Murdoch, retired and serving ministers – and the current Prime Minister – through the mill as the Leveson Inquiry has been doing. It’s a reminder that here, at least, no matter high and mighty you might think you are, you’re never above the law.
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