THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, was among six bishops who
delivered a blow to the Government on Tuesday by backing the
introduction of an arbitration service to tackle defamation claims,
a recommendation of the Leveson report.
The proposal was made as an amendment to the Defamation Bill by
Lord Puttnam, who spoke of a "terrible silence" in the wake of the
publication of Lord Justice Leveson's report in November (
News, 30 November): "I believe that we . . . have an obligation
to act, and to be seen to act, on behalf of victims past, present,
and future." The Bill looked "almost as if Leveson never happened"
and had "absolutely nothing to say about access to justice or the
costs of seeking that justice in the courts, all of which is
plainly unaffordable except for the very wealthy". The Government
should introduce the arbitration system outlined by Lord Justice
Leveson, staffed by independent legal experts, and free for
complainants to use, he said. This would "allow ordinary people to
get redress if they are defamed under the new definitions that we
are passing into law".
Dr Sentamu said that he was "attracted" to the proposed system
"because the preacher from Galilee said that, if you have a dispute
with your neighbour, it is better to try to settle it before you go
to court, because when you go to court you may find yourself being
given such a stiff sentence that you end up losing doubly."
Lord Hunt of Wirral, who chairs the Press Complaints Commission,
said that he had seen "no evidence of delay" in cross-party talks
on the future of press regulation, and a "considerable degree of
consensus on accepting the architecture proposed by Lord Justice
Leveson", but that the proposed arbitral arm was "dividing the
industry", with some local and regional editors fearing "a whole
new class of what they describe as potentially ruinous actions".
The House of Lords "should not start imposing detailed,
prescriptive clauses that are not in Lord Justice Leveson's
The Minister of State for Justice, Lord McNally, said that "the
media still have a long way to go before there is any sense of
trust in what they are doing to rectify the harm that they have
done to our body politic," but that "a cross-party approach was the
best way to ensure that a consensus could be reached on these
contentious issues." A draft royal charter proposal on press
regulation would be published next week.
The amendment was passed by 272 to 141, with rebellions from
prominent Conservative peers.
Lord Skidelsky, a crossbencher, said that introducing the
Leveson report "by the back door" was "an important merit of the
Bill because we are unlikely to get Leveson through the front