Leveson dismisses further questions about affair between inquiry lawyers: 'I do not intend to comment on this matter further' - Press Gazette

Leveson dismisses further questions about affair between inquiry lawyers: 'I do not intend to comment on this matter further'

Lord Justice Leveson today flatly rejected any suggestion that his report into press standards may have been tainted by an alleged relationship between counsel for the inquiry and a barrister who represented celebrities.

The judge insisted that "every finding of fact, every conclusion and every recommendation" in last year's report was his alone and that barrister Carine Patry Hoskins had no influence over them.

His comments came in a letter to MP Rob Wilson, who has written to the Bar Standards Board asking itto consider whether there may have been a breach of its code of conduct as a result of personal relations between Ms Patry Hoskins and David Sherborne.

Leveson told the MP that it was a matter for the Board to decide whether there had been a breach, but added: "You ask whether it is possible that (Ms Patry Hoskins) may have had an input into the inquiry's conclusions… the answer is 'no'."

Sherborne and Patry Hoskins reportedly went on holiday together to Santorini in August, days after the public hearings concluded and months before the inquiry ended.

But they are said to maintain that their relationship did not begin until after the Leveson report was published in November.

Lord Justice Leveson initially wrote to  Wilson last week after press reports that he had written to the judge urging him to investigate reports of an affair.

But  Wilson's letter did not actually reach Lord Justice Leveson until after he had made his response, prompting the judge to send a second response today underlining his rejection of suggestions that the inquiry may have been compromised.

In today's letter Lord Justice Leveson wrote: "Ms Patry Hoskins was second junior counsel to my Inquiry and, throughout the process, undertook all of her work at the request and under the direction of either myself or Robert Jay QC.

"With witnesses, her role was only to elicit and explore that which the witnesses themselves had already set out in their statements to the inquiry and to ask the questions which other core participants had sent to counsel beforehand.

"You ask whether it is possible that she may have had an input into the inquiry's conclusions prior to August 3 2012: the answer is 'no'.

"During that period, her work also covered a number of procedural and legal issues which I do not consider it necessary to list: none concerned the report or my recommendations.

"After August 3, as I have made clear, she only collated facts for Part I, Chapters 3 and 5 and, at the end, assisted with proof-reading.

"As for her impact, I repeat from my report: … every finding of fact, every conclusion and every recommendation is mine alone."

Lord Justice Leveson added: "I am aware that you have written to the Bar Standards Board and it will be for the Board, not me, to determine whether there has been any breach of the Code of Conduct.

"In the meantime, I see no benefit in engaging in further public debate about the work of the inquiry or the integrity of its processes: I do not intend to comment on this matter further."

Reports suggest Mr Sherborne, 44, and 40-year-old Ms Patry Hoskins did not tell Lord Justice Leveson that they had become close and he only learned of their trip to Santorini in recent weeks.

Sherborne represented Hugh Grant and other phone-hacking victims at the inquiry.

Patry Hoskins was junior counsel in the team led by Robert Jay QC.

Wilson said Lord Justice Leveson had "contemptuously dismissed" legitimate questions.

He said: "Lord Justice Leveson's response is highly unsatisfactory. In the past, the courts have rightly shown great humility and taken any perception of a conflict of interest or breach of confidence very seriously indeed. Whole cases have been quashed where people assisting a judge are perceived to have a conflict of interest.

"Instead, Lord Justice Leveson has contemptuously dismissed perfectly legitimate questions about what work his counsel was doing, what access she might have had to confidential information, and what the nature of her relationship with Hacked Off's barrister was during this time. Leaving these questions unanswered doesn't do the Leveson Inquiry or the legal profession any good. I am frankly baffled as to why Leveson has acted in this way."

Writing in The Observer this week, Peter Preston noted that the Bar Standards Board is rather less independent than the regulator proposed for the press in the Leveson report.

"…it seems sensible to look at the composition of a regulatory board Leveson trusts implicitly: 15 members, six of them barristers, nine of them lay. It goes with the flow of the 'independence' the Lord Justice wanted for press regulation.

"But wait. Two of the 'lay' members are professors of law, at Oxford and Birmingham. And one other lay voice spent four years recently working as a complaints officer for the BSB. As for the overall appointments process, that rests with the Council of the Inns of Court – senior judges and barristers making their dispositions. In short, by the standards that Leveson applies to papers, this version of independence comes with a curled lip and a hollow laugh. Wigged Off would be apoplectic."