Leveson: 'I hope that the process which I have put in place is well placed to assist both [Parliament and the political process generally]'
Lord Justice Leveson has warned Parliament that its decisions on whether evidence is placed before it could potentially "have a real impact on the inquiry", adding that any requirement for evidence to be given to the House first could "undermine the fairness of the procedure".
In a statement to the inquiry this afternoon Leveson sought to respond to questions raised in Parliament in relation to News Corporation's bid for BSkyB after emails from News Corp's head of public affairs Frederic Michel making reference to contact with the office of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt during the process came under the inquiry spotlight.
Hunt told reporters in April he would be giving the Leveson inquiry copies of "private texts and emails" sent to his special advisor, in a bid to show he "handled the BSkyB merger process with total integrity".
Prompted by discussion in Parliament about the BSkyB matter, Leveson today read a statement to the inquiry in which he said he did "see the significance of the way in which the bid was handled" by both business secretary Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt, but added he did "not consider it any part of my task to determine whether or not any minister has acted in breach of the Ministerial Code".
"I repeat that my task, simply expressed, is to consider the relationship between the press and politicians, and the conduct of each in order to make recommendations, if I consider such to be necessary and appropriate."
Leveson went on to refer to specific points of order raised in the House of Commons yesterday (14 May), in which Speaker John Bercow said "the accountability of a minister to this House is not diluted or suspended by a minister’s engagement with inquiries or other proceedings outside this House" and that "if ministers are providing written documents to an inquiry, it would be a courtesy to the House, and help with the discharge of its scrutiny function, if such documents were also provided to the House".
MP Edward Leigh also added yesterday: "Inquiries such as Leveson are given everything. Surely the time has come to proclaim this truth: this House is supreme and sovereign, and we should get everything first."
Today Leveson responded that in relation to evidence obtained by the inquiry "it is not for me to say anything about what should or should not be placed before Parliament and when that should happen" and stressed he was "not, in any way, seeking to challenge the ability of Parliament to proceed as it thinks appropriate".
However he warned that its decisions could potentially "have a real impact on the Inquiry and it is only appropriate that I illuminate them."
He added that "one reading of the question posed by Mr Leigh might be a call for all their evidence first to be given to Parliament and then to the inquiry", which he warned "could equally undermine the fairness of the procedure and thus make compliance with Section 17(3) all the more difficult".
"Again, whatever decisions might be taken for the future, I would hope that sufficient respect for my process will allow it to proceed without interruption and without effectively rendering the order which I have made entirely academic."
He added in his statement: "I hope that allowing the inquiry to proceed as it plans will not amount to a serious inconvenience either to parliament or to the political process generally.
"On the contrary, I hope that the process which I have put in place is well placed to assist both. The present problem arises only out of sequencing the evidence and, given the timetable that I have explained, I would hope that the overall period within which the evidence will be heard assuages the concerns which have been expressed."
Leveson also confirmed that he intends to ask Frederic Michel and Hunt's former special advisor Adam Smith, who has resigned from the role, to provide statements and give evidence to the inquiry by the end of May.
He added that if evidence "were to have been forced into the public domain and be the subject of argument and debate in advance of the witnesses giving evidence" then he would have felt it to be "unfair to subject the witnesses to further questions before this Inquiry".
As a result in those circumstances "I might well conclude that it is simply not appropriate to look at this evidence at all, and I would then abandon Mr Michel and Mr Smith as witnesses and restrict the Secretary of State to other areas of his evidence", Leveson added.
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