Lord Leveson address seminar

Leveson: 'commitment to a free press and freedom of expression'

Lord Justice Leveson has responded to critics of his wide-ranging inquiry into press standards and insists he remains committed "to a free press and freedom of expression".

The Leveson inquiry, which today enters its second phase - looking at the relationship between the police and the media - was criticised by education secretary Michael Gove last week, who warned of the "dangers" the inquiry could pose to press freedom.

Lord Justice Leveson said today that the focus of the inquiry so far had "inevitably been on illegal practices".

He said: "I recognise the disquiet felt by responsible members of the press that the evidence I've heard is not representative of the way the industry as a whole operates.

"I have repeatedly emphasised the vital role that responsible journalism plays in our society."

Gove said at a lunch with parliamentary reporters last week: "There is a danger at the moment that what we may see are judges, celebrities, and the establishment, all of whom have an interest in taking over from the press as arbiters of what a free press should be, imposing either soft or hard regulation.

"The big picture is that there is a chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression which emanates from the debate around Leveson.

"I think that there are laws already in place that we should respect and principles already in place that we should uphold that are central to ensuring that this country remains free."

In an opening address at the inquiry today, Leveson said: "I'm very happy yet again to reassert my commitment to a free press and freedom of expression.

"They are rights which do not exist in a vacuum. They do not obliterate or trump all other rights, not least the operation of the rule of law for all.

"Let me be clear that I have no wish to be the arbiter of what a free press should look like."

He said of the inquiry: "It is doing no more than doing its mandated terms of reference."

"I do not believe the inquiry was or is premature and I intend to continue to do neither more nor less than what was required of me."

Leveson also paid tribute to Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times reporter killed in Syria last week, adding: "To say that she was a fine reporter does not do justice to the tribute she is owed."

A series of current and former Metropolitan police (MPS) representatives will appear before the Leveson inquiry this week, as the inquiry moves into its second module looking at the relationship between the press and police.

Deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers – who is leading the Metropolitan Police's phone hacking investigation – will be one of the first witnesses to appear, as one of three to give evidence today.

Former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick, who alleged that police failed to conduct a proper investigation into phone hacking will also appear on Monday along with Lord Prescott, who received a £40,000 settlement in his phone hacking claim against News Group Newspapers, the former publisher of the defunct News of the World.

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