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October 24, 2013updated 01 Nov 2013 11:29pm

UK publishers launch legal fight against Government regulation scheme and press on with IPSO

By Dominic Ponsford

Press owners’ body Pressbof has launched a legal bid to derail the Government’s proposed Royal Charter on press regulation.

And publishers have announced plans to press ahead with the establishment of their own Independent Press Standards Organisation regulator which is instead compliant with the Pressbof Royal Charter.

The Pressbof Royal Charter was submitted to the Privy Council for consideration in April and rejected on 8 October. Now publishers are launching a judicial review bid to get that decision reversed.

A statement issued by regional press trade body the Newspaper Society said: “Given the critical importance to a free society of the issues involved in the granting of a charter on this subject, which goes to the very heart of press freedom and the right of free expression, it was vital that the consideration of this application be undertaken fairly and rationally.

“After studying the matter closely, it is the clear view of the industry’s trade associations, which submitted the charter through the Press Standards Board of Finance, that the application was not dealt with fairly, that the press had a right to be consulted which the Government and the Privy Council failed to do, and that the procedures deployed were irrational.

“We believe that the decision and the Order were therefore unlawful, and the industry’s associations through PressBof are applying to the High Court for judicial review and to have the decision quashed.”

The rival cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation is set to go for final sign-off by the Privy Council at the end of this month.

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It sets out a system whereby a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament would be needed to change the system in future.

According to the Privy Council, the Pressbof Royal Charter fell short in terms of independence and because it made a libel disputes arbitration service optional rather than compulsory (as recommended in the Leveson Report).

Pressbof chairman and Telegraph executive director Lord Black said:

The decision by the Government and the Privy Council on this matter has enormous ramifications for free speech both here in the UK, and – because of our leadership role in the Commonwealth and developing world – across the globe.

“The Government and the Privy Council should have applied the most rigorous standards of consultation and examination of the Royal Charter proposed by the industry, which would have enshrined tough regulatory standards at the same time as protecting press freedom. They singularly failed to do so, and that is why – as the issues at stake are so extraordinarily high – we are having to take this course of action.”

Meanwhile, the 'Industry Implementation Group' has published final plans for the Independent Press Standards Organisation – a new contract-based press regulator.

In a statement, the group said "the vast majority of publishers" have indicated they are committed to the plan. Full details of the contracts and the proposed system of regulation are on the IPSO website here.

The process of asking publishers formally to sign the contracts will now begin and is expected to take around eight weeks.

An appointments process established by a Foundation Group under Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers is expected to begin work "shortly", with the new regulator expected to be up an running "early in the new year".

Paul Vickers, chairman of the Industry Implementation Group and executive director of Trinity Mirror plc, said:

Today’s publication is the result of almost nine months of work and consultation across our large and diverse industry. As a result of this painstaking and thorough exercise, we can now move to establish the tough, independent, effective regulator that Lord Justice Leveson called for in his report.

“I am very grateful to many colleagues in the industry – both legal and editorial – who have completed such a mammoth task.

“I am confident that what we have produced will be the toughest regulator anywhere in the developed world – one which will guarantee the public the protection it deserves, but which will also ensure we maintain the free press on which our democracy is founded.”

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