The Sketch: This could be a contender for longest inquiry ever


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The Independent Online

"I intend to summarise the direction in which we should travel," Lord Leveson said. And then for the ordinary people in the courtroom, "In other words, what should happen now." It's going to be a long year; these people are paid by the hour.

In the same room that the Hutton inquiry took place we now have Leveson's Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press.

The body is composed of judge, counsel, experts, 51 victims and other "core participants" to make up for what the Lord Justice called his "perceived shortcomings" in his knowledge of the newspaper industry.

It looks like a cute judicial hybrid composed of an inquiry with the power to summon to take evidence on oath and a court of public opinion. Victims will be giving evidence. And while we don't know the number of victims on the books (not even to the nearest thousand) this could be a contender for longest inquiry ever. He is going to "strive" to meet the deadline of a year, "but not at all cost".

It isn't just evidence – "in order to start from the right place" there will be a series of seminars on the law, journalistic ethics, the practice and pressures of investigative journalism, issues of regulation, "and at some point there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good". No doubt. Very important. The man must have a brain as big as Bedfordshire to hold everything in. Because there is much more. Another series of seminars on the police, politicians, the political process, the plurality of the media. And after the seminars – evidence. Lord Leveson took great pains to be neutral, careful, impartial, judgelike. As did his counsel. So we step out bravely as we did with Lord Hutton eight years ago, full of confidence in their intellectual capacity and their virtue.

However, it's difficult to imagine that after all this work the end result will be a single sentence: "The Inquiry recommends that the press obeys the law."