Campaigners are concerned that special advisers are exempt from requirements for civil servants to 'behave with impartiality and objectivity'Credit: Sean Dempsey/PA
Lord Justice Leveson has dismissed a request from four campaign groups, including the Media Standards Trust, to prevent ministers' special advisers getting access to documents and witness statements in advance.
In an urgent application to the inquiry, Full Fact, English PEN, the Media Standards Trust and Index on Censorship asked Lord Justice Leveson to publish the names of any senior civil servants who will see the confidential material.
Eight government ministers were granted core participant status last week for the third module of the inquiry, which starts this morning. They include prime minister David Cameron and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. The campaigners argue that politically-appointed special advisers should not be allowed to see the material that is now accessible by ministers.
They said in their application: "All our concerns stem from an interest (and the public interest) in the transparency of the inquiry process, and consequent public faith in the inquiry and its outcomes.
"We believe an unintended consequence of Friday's ruling is that it opens the door for anyone whom a minister might entrust to assist him or her to be put forward to join the confidentiality circle. We do not think special advisers should be included in that circle.
"Whereas ordinary civil servants are subject to a general requirement to behave with impartiality and objectivity, special advisers are expressly exempt. We think it would be inappropriate to appear to allow any potential party political element into the inquiry's confidential proceedings."
The groups added: "Concern has been expressed on newspaper websites - and on other public forums such as Twitter - that in addition to the privilege of seeing evidence in advance, government core participants have the ability to suggest redactions before material reaches the public gaze.
"Inevitably, where there is discretion to hide things from the public, there will be worries about abuse among the public."
In an opening address to the Leveson inquiry this morning, Lord Justice Leveson said his ruling last week - granting core participant status to the eight ministers - had been "misunderstood and misrepresented" by some.
He said: "I do not doubt the good faith of those who've raised these issues", but added that the group's concerns about transparency were misplaced.
He added: "What is critical is that everyone who signs the confidentiality undertaking is bound by it."
Free daily newsletter
- 'Lead with the truth, not the controversy': how to report on the 2020 US election
- Fact-checking around the world: robo-checking, community meetings and Telegram
- Facebook's content verification efforts still insufficient to fight false news
- Full Fact secures $2 million Google AI grant to fight misinformation
- Discover Leveson helps journalists examine their profession