Lord Wakeham gives evidence at the Leveson inquiry
The former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord Wakeham, has recommended closer links between the self-regulatory body and the courts, and a system to prevent the PCC being used as a "fishing expedition" ahead of legal action.
Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry this morning, Wakeham said the PCC should be able to "get their money back for doing work" at the complaint stage, if the complainant then took their case to court.
Wakeham, who led the PCC from 1995 to 2001, told the inquiry: "There could be an understanding between the PCC and the courts whereas when somebody starts a legal proceeding for privacy, the judge asks: have you taken this to the PCC, and if not, why not?
"By this means, it seems to me, self-regulation would be stage one in a process which might end up in the courts if we couldn't end up with a solution."
He acknowledged there was "a danger of double jeopardy for the newspapers – that they'd be clobbered by the Press Complaints Commission and then they'd go to court".
Asked by Lord Justice Leveson how the PCC could protect itself from being used as a "dry run" or "fishing expedition" ahead of court action, Wakeham suggested that if the complainant went on to the courts, "the PCC would get their money back for doing the work", either by charging the newspaper or the complainant, depending on the outcome.
However, he added: "99.9 per cent of people, having gone to the PCC, having a fair investigation of their complaint, wouldn't take it any further."
Wakeham said he remained strongly opposed to statutory controls of the press, adding: "I've taken the view that the complaints handling of the PCC was pretty good. It was cheap, it was quick and that was not perfect but it was OK.
"While I thought the complaints could be dealt with by an ombudsman-type figure, the wider issues – the McCanns, Daily Mirror share tipping – were bigger issues that you couldn't leave one man to deal with."