Lord Justice Leveson is expected to recommend a new media regulator independent of ministers, Parliament and journalists after his long-running inquiry into the press, it emerged last night.
A draft blueprint for reform, published for the first time, has been drawn up by the inquiry judge on the eve of a critical week for David Cameron and George Osborne, who face questions over their links with Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Crucially, Lord Leveson stops short of proposing any form of state regulation and instead proposes a "statement of ethical standards which is recognised as reasonable by the industry and credible by the public".
The judge wants editors to be responsible for complying with the new ethical standards, and says there must be new powers and "credible remedies" for individuals who feel they have been badly treated by the media.
The new regulator must have "effective investigatory and advisory powers", the blueprint says – suggesting it will be tougher than the existing Press Complaints Commission but fall short of the state-controlled regime demanded by some victims of phone hacking.
The document has been published on the Leveson inquiry website and is the first detailed insight into the judge's thinking on what his final report will eventually propose.
It reads: "All standards for good practice in journalism should be driven by the public interest...
"The setting of standards must be independent of government and Parliament, and sufficiently independent of media interests, in order to command public respect. Enforcement of ethical standards, by whatever mechanism, must be operationally independent of government and Parliamen... The system must provide credible remedies, both in respect of aggrieved individuals and in respect of issues affecting wider groups in society."
The draft proposals emerged as some of the most senior figures in British politics spent the weekend preparing to appear in court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, will face difficult questions from Robert Jay QC over his close links to Mr Murdoch, the newspaper proprietor's son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International. Mr Osborne played the key role in the appointment of Andy Coulson as director of communications for the Conservative Party, a decision that has returned to haunt the Prime Minister in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. The Chancellor also became close to Mrs Brooks and invited her and husband Charlie to his official residence, Dorneywood, in autumn 2010 at a time when News Corporation's bid for full control of BSkyB was active.
Mr Coulson was last month charged with perjury in a related matter and remains under investigation by police looking at phone hacking. Mrs Brooks has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to phone hacking. Nevertheless, it is understood Mr Jay and Lord Leveson will be able to ask the Prime Minister and Chancellor about the due diligence they carried out in relation to Mr Coulson's appointment, as well as their friendship with Mrs Brooks.
Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne will also have to explain their respective roles during the BSkyB bid, including the decision in December 2010 to hand responsibility for overseeing it to Jeremy Hunt, the Media Secretary, who weeks earlier had supported the News Corp proposal in a memo to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted there was "no grand bargain" with the Murdochs to support their business interests in exchange for support from The Sun for the Conservatives during the 2010 election. He has also claimed he had "no inappropriate conversations" with Mrs Brooks or James Murdoch about the BSkyB bid. Yet, given the repeated contact he had with both News Corp figures, including frequent exchanges of text messages with Mrs Brooks, Mr Cameron must explain what discussions he did hold with them.
There are expected to be more difficult revelations for Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne in a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 tomorrow, which will examine relations between the Prime Minister's inner circle and the Murdoch empire.
Also tomorrow Labour will hold talks with Liberal Democrats and Tory backbenchers over a parliamentary motion putting pressure on Mr Cameron to order an independent inquiry into Mr Hunt's conduct.
Despite the revelation during the Leveson inquiry that Mr Hunt had sent a supportive message to James Murdoch over the BSkyB bid hours before the Media Secretary was put in charge of the takeover, Mr Cameron has failed to commission an inquiry by Sir Alex Allan, who advises No 10 on the ministerial code.
Harriet Harman, the shadow Media Secretary, said: "This is an important opportunity for the House of Commons to make clear the importance it places on secretaries of state being transparent and truthful to Parliament... Misleading Parliament is not just some outdated constitutional issue – it matters."
Questions for Cameron
1. Did you ever talk to Rebekah Brooks about the prospect of employing Andy Coulson?
2. When did you personally first ask Mr Coulson if he knew about phone hacking?
3. Did anyone ask Mr Coulson whether he retained any financial interests in News Corporation and/or News International? If not, why not?
4. Were you at any point told about Mr Coulson's links to the private investigator Jonathan Rees, who was facing charges for conspiracy to murder?
5. What conversations did you have with George Osborne about Mr Coulson's past and about who would check on it?
6. Why did your office deny to the Mail on Sunday in 2011 that you had ridden a horse belonging to Rebekah Brooks, when it later transpired that you had?
7. How often did you see Mrs Brooks socially?
8. You have repeatedly said that you had "no inappropriate conversations" with Mrs Brooks or James Murdoch about the BSkyB bid – but what conversations did you have?
9. Why did you pass the BSkyB decision to Jeremy Hunt when Mr Hunt had written a memo to you in support of the bid?
10. Given that there is evidence that Mr Hunt may have misled Parliament, and given that the ministerial code says that ministers should take responsibility for special advisers, why have you not referred Mr Hunt to your adviser on the ministerial code?
Questions for Osborne
1. Did you discuss with Rebekah Brooks the appointment of Andy Coulson as director of communications for the Conservative Party?
2. Did you ask Mr Coulson if he knew about phone hacking before he was hired to work for the Conservative Party in 2007?
3. In 2009, when there were fresh disclosures about phone hacking, did you ask Mr Coulson what he knew about this?
4. Were you ever made aware that Mr Coulson had links to the private investigator Jonathan Rees?
5. Before the 2010 general election, did you tell Jeremy Hunt to do everything possible to get onside with James Murdoch?
6. Did you discuss the BSkyB bid with Mrs Brooks when she spent the weekend at your official residence, Dorneywood, in autumn 2010?
7. At any other time in discussions with Mrs Brooks and James Murdoch, did you give them cause to think the Government would be supportive of the BSkyB bid?
8. Did you suggest to David Cameron in December 2010 that the BSkyB bid decision should be passed to Jeremy Hunt?
9. Can you expand on what you meant when you texted Mr Hunt: "I hope you like our solution", indicating that he was being put in charge of the BSkyB decision?
10. Given that there is evidence Mr Hunt may have misled Parliament, and the ministerial code says ministers should take responsibility for special advisers, do you think Mr Hunt should be referred to No 10's adviser on the ministerial code?