Statutory underpinning shouldn’t lead to the erosion of a free press

Statutory intervention won’t necessarily result in governmental oversight and a lack of an independent media, the Law Society said today.

Law Society Chief Executive Des Hudson explained that the experience of the legal world suggests legislative intervention isn’t the defining factor for independence of a profession.

“We need to look at precisely what aspects of legislative intervention would be toxic for a free press. Terms such as ‘state regulation’ and ‘statutory underpinning’ are used widely, but not always with the greatest clarity. Leveson has taken great care to distinguish between state-run regulation, and a system which is put into motion and recognised by statute.

“Lawyers have already gone through this crucial transition. There are indeed striking similarities between the model Leveson recommends for future regulation of the press, and the regime for legal services. This is perhaps not surprising, given the parallel between the necessity of independence for legal practitioners, to be free to act in best interests of their client, and that of journalists, to be free to report and comment on matters of public interest.”

The Legal Services Act 2007 established a uniform regime for the regulation of legal services. The Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority, an independent body, sits within this system and holds solicitors to a code of conduct.

Hudson added: “Few would argue that the standards the 2007 Act places on the SRA does anything to inhibit solicitors from representing their client’s best interests. In fact, the regime explicitly reinforces this principle.

“When it comes to the future of the free press, form comes second to the detail, and we need to be clear about exactly which mechanisms will ensure or undermine the future independence of the press.

“This is why the Society will be holding one of the first public debates on the Leveson Report on 11 December, bringing together representatives from reform groups and the press to analyse the recommendations.”
(this is a press release issued by the Law Society of England and Wales)

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