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Royal Charter given go-ahead as industry loses legal bid

The cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation has been approved by the Queen after the newspaper industry lost its last ditch attempt to block it.

Industry bodies sought an injunction to try to stop the charter being approved yesterday by the Privy Council, while they sought a judicial review of the decision to reject their own plans for a new press regulator.

The cross-party charter has been opposed by most newspaper groups and it is unclear whether any will sign up for it, with the industry expected to press on with its own plans for a new regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The High Court heard arguments yesterday morning from lawyers representing the Press Standards Board of Finance on behalf of the industry, who said the decision to reject its own Royal Charter was “unfair, irrational and unlawful”.

At the emergency hearing, lawyers for Culture Secretary Maria Miller denied there had been any unfairness and said the application for a judicial review should be rejected.

Judges Lord Justice Richards and Justice Sales announced at lunchtime that they had rejected the legal bid by the industry.

The publishers are now set to appeal against the High Court’s decision not to allow the judicial review or the injunction.

In a statement, the industry bodies said: “We are deeply disappointed with this decision, which denies the newspaper and magazine industry the right properly to make their case that the Privy Council’s decision to reject their Charter was unfair and unlawful.

“This is a vital constitutional issue and we will be taking our case for judicial review – of the Privy Council’s decisions on both the industry Charter and the cross-party Charter – to the Court of Appeal.”

In the High Court, Lord Justice Richards said the merits of the publishers’ legal case were “at best weak”.

He said he did not accept that the procedure adopted by the Privy Council could have unfairly prevented PressBof from putting the industry’s case forward for its rival charter.

Earlier this month, a group of senior politicians turned down the industry’s request for a Charter to oversee its proposed new Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The case for the injunction was brough by industry bodies the Newspaper Society, Newspaper Publishers Association, Scottish Newspaper Society and Professional Publishers Association through PressBof, which made the original Royal Charter application.

A number of amendments were made to the Royal Charter before its approval in an attempt to ease the concerns of the newspaper industry, including the requirement that any future changes to it would require the unanimous agreement of the recognition body’s board, as well as a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Both the industry and the Government agree self-regulation of the press is the way forward and we both agree that a Royal Charter is the best framework for that.

“We are clear the process for considering the industry Royal Charter was robust and fair and the courts have agreed. We can now get on with implementing the cross-party Charter.

“A Royal Charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose.

“We will continue to work with the industry, as we always have, and recent changes secured by the Culture Secretary, to arbitration, the standards code and the parliamentary lock will ensure the system is workable.”