The U.K. judicial review into the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. will be led by a former prosecutor best known for the conviction of an English serial killer.
Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday chose Lord Justice Brian Leveson, 62, to head up the independent review. The inquiry, which will report back on press regulation within 12 months, will have the power to question under oath proprietors and managers, such as Murdoch, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks, chief executive officer of News Corp.'s British unit News International and editor at its News of the World during much of its alleged phone hacking. A parliamentary panel said Thursday that the Murdochs, both American citizens, had declined to appear next to answer questions about the scandal, although Ms. Brooks, a British citizen, said she would testify before the panel next Tuesday.
(Update: The Murdochs apparently changed their minds about testifying in Parliament. A News Corp. spokeswoman in New York told the Associated Press Thursday that the pair intended to appear.)
A second part of the judicial inquiry, a probe of wrongdoing by the press and police, may take longer because of criminal proceedings, Mr. Cameron said.
Mr. Leveson "has been involved in any number of high-profile cases where public scrutiny has been intense," said John Benson, a barrister at Atlantic Chambers in Liverpool. "He won't be in any way fazed by the fact that the eyes of the world will be watching."
The judicial inquiry is in addition to the Parliamentary investigation and pending police probes of allegations that the News of the World hacked into mobile-phone voice-mail messages for stories and bribed police officers. The scandal forced News Corp. to shut the tabloid newspaper and drop its bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group.
Mr. Leveson is best known for prosecuting serial killer Rose West at Winchester Crown Court in 1995. She was jailed for life for 10 murders. He also unsuccessfully prosecuted the British comedian Ken Dodd for tax evasion. As a judge, Leveson oversaw cases including an appeal of the 48-year-old murder conviction of a woman who was hanged after she shot her lover.
Mr. Leveson has "vast experience" as a prosecutor and judge in both civil and criminal cases, said Mr. Benson, who worked under him on a case at the House of Lords, the predecessor to the U.K. Supreme Court. He "is formidable," Mr. Benson said. "He is likely to leave no stone or even any suspicious-looking pebble unturned."
Mr. Leveson said while work on press regulation "will begin immediately," other issues will have to wait until the police probe is completed. "This inquiry cannot cut across or prejudice the ongoing criminal investigations or any subsequent prosecutions," he said. "This means that the detailed issues" in the probe into wrongdoing by press and police "must inevitably be deferred."
The Leveson probe still may have the power to look at issues more broadly than prosecutors, said Chris Watson, a lawyer at CMS Cameron McKenna in London. "The public inquiry could find fact and make recommendations on things that weren't in the past considered criminal but may be," Mr. Watson said. The findings "could say that people are saying they are so horrified as to what happened that if it wasn't illegal, it may well ought to be."
London's Metropolitan Police has made nine arrests in its ongoing probe, including at least six who have worked at the News of the World. Mr. Cameron has been criticized because his former press adviser, Andy Coulson, was the editor of the paper while some of the phone hacking took place. Coulson was arrested last week as part of the police probe. A ninth person, a 60-year-old man, was arrested today in London, police said. Sky News reported the suspect is Neil Wallis, a former editor at the tabloid.
"The people involved, whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up, however high or low they go, must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country," Mr. Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament in London.
Mr. Cameron said police "are looking through 11,000 pages containing 3,870 names, including around 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers. They have contacted 170 people so far -- and they will contact every single person named in those documents."
Mr. Leveson said the inquiries "raise complex and wide-ranging legal and ethical issues of enormous public concern" and that he'll provide more information on how the inquiry will proceed later this month.
"The inquiry must balance the desire for a robustly free press with the rights of the individual while, at the same time, ensuring that critical relationships between the press, Parliament, the government and the police are maintained," he said.
-- Bloomberg News --