Rive Gauche: Cameron appoints judge to head inquiry with ‘links’ to Murdochs? How bizarre is that?

Two stories have caught my eye overnight…both from The Telegraph…

George Osborne had dinner with Rupert Murdoch two weeks before BSkyB bid decision

The Telegraph: The Chancellor, George Osborne, flew to New York and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch two weeks before the media regulator was due to decide on whether to approve his takeover of BSkyB.

AND… this.. rather more important one…

Phone hacking inquiry judge attended parties at home of Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law

The Telegraph: The judge in charge of the phone hacking inquiry has attended parties at the home of Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law.

Lord Leveson’s office insisted that David Cameron had been informed of the judge’s attendance at the parties and had not raised any objections.

Lord Leveson’s office continued: “Lord Justice Leveson was not involved in that meeting and he has neither met nor spoken to anyone from Freud Communications since January 2011.

“There is, in any event, no continuing relationship. Prior to his appointment to the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson ensured that these matters were brought to the attention of the Prime Minister.”

Twenty years ago I was involved in a contract dispute.  I won.  The first High Court judge to try the issue had to recuse himself (stand down).  The plaintiffs objected on the grounds that I had had a drink with the judge when he was a QC.  The judge had no problem with this.  Nor did I.

In the present climate – I am surprised that the Prime Minister, aware of the minor connection between Lord Justice Leveson and the Murdochs as reported in The Telegraph – thought it fitting that Leveson LJ should head the inquiry.  I am sure that Leveson LJ would be impartial.  He is highly regarded.  But on this very complex and emotive issue of #Hackgate – it is surprising (a) that this story was not announced at the time Leveson LJ was appointed and, frankly, (b) that Leveson LJ was appointed, and (c) accepted the appointment.

My view on this may not find favour in some circles…. but I do feel, strongly, that Leveson LJ – assuming The Telegraph story is accurate in all respects – should stand down.  There must be other judges with no connections to the Murdochs or their empire, who could do just as good a job?

Chris Bryant MP has objected. I think we should also object...strongly.

18 thoughts on “Rive Gauche: Cameron appoints judge to head inquiry with ‘links’ to Murdochs? How bizarre is that?

  1. Surely Lord Leveson must have known that the media would trawl for any connections to News International. So why did he accept?

  2. I whole-heartedly support your reason’s for feeling as you do- and how fraustrated you must be feeling; knowing a wrong needs to be put right.

    Chris Bryant as yourself needs as much support as he can muster – It is good to know that you are with him on this one!

  3. I am dismayed that the parties could not see for themselves how inappropriate this appointment is. There needs to be a zillion miles of distance between the person heading the inquiry and the people giving evidence.
    Public trust and confidence is at such a low ebb in this particular instance that all care must be taken that justice and impartiality are not only actually done, but are also seen to be done.
    The appointment should have been one which could court no controversy at all and over which there could be no question marks and in which there were no links
    Even my 19 year old stepson, whilst serving on a jury, thought to tell the clerk one of the barristers knew his Dad (and he was removed)
    I am dismayed that these things are not self evident

  4. These things are self evident to may people but there is, regrettably, an attitude in some parts of the judiciary that they do not need to be concerned about such matters because, unlike laymen, they are superbly objective. The same attitude tainted Lord Hoffman’s involvement in the Pinochet case. In this “hackgate” situation, it appears that the issue was recognised and a decision taken that it would not matter. That is worse. It does matter.

  5. Hmmmmm…

    Remember the commotion when McPherson was appointed to head the – erm – McPherson enquiry? A lot of ‘wholly unsuitable’ huffing and puffing. I occasionally wondered if the initial controversy put him on his best behaviour. In any event he played a blinder…

    Could it be that…

  6. White Rabbit… ironically.. the judge who recused in my case was McPherson J… nice chap…. came and talked to my law students as QC and judge.

    And dressed up in full judicial kit to show long and short wig versions + robes.. the students enjoyed his talks.


  7. WR and others : Leveson LJ is very highly regarded… it is ‘unfortunate’ in the very heated climate of present Murdoch issue that there is any link. I am making no suggestion whatsoever of competence. Many practising barristers and solicitors will take view he is very independently minded.

    I take view… in the present case – that the ‘link’ will undermine the inquiry in the press and media – in no-one’s interest?

    This is an extraordinary situation? ‘Exceptional’ even?

  8. Have you considered that most of the judiciary have had some connection to the media, especially after years in practice, and that perhaps of all the judges they considered to head up the enquiry Leveson LJ actually had the least?

  9. One cannot escape the fact that he attended parties at the home of Rupert Murdoch’s sister. Leaving aside the common law test relating to apparent bias, it still remains politically undesirable to have a judge who has accepted any form of Murdoch hospitality. An inquiry conducted by such a judge will be seen to be seriously flawed. It matters not how competent the judge actually is. The appearance is wrong.

    Interestingly, as Brian Leveson QC, he was counsel for the Crown in R v Gough – the case which is the foundation of the modern test for apparent bias – later amended by Re Mendicaments and Magill v Porter 2002. Ah! Dame Shirley … remember her?

  10. This is interesting from Gary Crawley: “Have you considered that most of the judiciary have had some connection to the media, especially after years in practice, and that perhaps of all the judges they considered to head up the enquiry Leveson LJ actually had the least?”

    Is this true, plausible, arguable? Given Leveson’s drinkies with the Freuds, I’m not sure I’m convinced by the idea that he had the least exposure to the press of all possible judicial contenders for the role. However, what about the more general point about the pervasiveness of such connections? Not being a judge or barrister myself, or part of the English legal world, I’ve no insight into this.

    Suspecting there might be some truth in it, however, was one of the big reasons why I contended that a Scots judge might have done the trick here, uncompromised by London’s narrow field of sociability…


  11. I take on board everything said about public perception, but I am even more concerned at the possible perception (mine) that (no disrespect at all to the blogger) this might just be an attempt to remove an exceptionally fine judge from the enquiry, through a justified fear that he WILL get to the truth.

    If we take the concept of Public Perception to its ultimate logical conclusion, then every time an issue like this is raised, it can only be determined by a tabloid telephone survey!

    The proof of this pudding will be in the eating, thus:
    If there is skullduggery to be unearthed, then Leveson LJ WILL unearth it.
    If there is not, then there is no greater mind than his to explain why not, and that is the only circumstance in which there is even the slightest likelihood of the sound of rumbling tumbrils or clicking knitting needles.

    What happens if they drop him. and it turns out that the second choice has some equally spurious link?

    The dark forces keep going until they think they have found a patsy with whom they are comfortable.

    I agree that in a democratic society, public perception should never be ignored, but there is a world of difference between that, and public hysteria, the tail wagging the dog, especially if it is being manipulated from behind the scenes with those who would prefer not to have Leveson in control. (I have no grounds whatever for asserting this, but if the Public are to be allowed their perception, then so should I.)

    Let’s also not forget that Leveson disclosed this “link” to the PM AND the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge before he took up the appointment.

    Whatever anyone thinks about “Call me Dave,” Igor Judge is nobody’s pussycat.

    So let’s not rush headlong into a decision here….

    Would the wider public think that as Robert Peston was also at the Freud’s party a couple of weeks ago, the BBC should stop him being their lead reporter on the News Int issue?

  12. Thebungblog – you make forceful and persuasive points… but…. why didn’t Cameron reveal the connection or ‘minor link’ at the time?

    Therein lies part of the problem?

  13. This is not in any way a case of trying to remove an exceptionally fine judge from the inquiry. We are fortunate in having many “exceptionally fine judges” both serving and retired so one must be found who is in no way tainted by contact with the Murdochs or their people. To take any other view would be to allow the law to start going down a very slippery slope.

    I agree also that an link should have been revealed at the time and not brought out later. That is damaging.

    Having said all of this, I suspect that they will now brazen this out and allow Leveson LJ to continue with his task.

  14. Pingback: Postcard from The Staterooms: Lawyers giving us a ‘good name’? – and a UK Education onsluaght by News Corporation? « Charon QC

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