Press Recognition Panel successfully defends judicial review of its decision to recognise IMPRESS

The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) has successfully defended judicial review proceedings in the High Court brought by the News Media Association (NMA), challenging the PRP Board’s decision on 25 October 2016 to recognise IMPRESS as an approved regulator.

On 12 October 2017, Lady Justice Rafferty DBE and The Hon. Mr Justice Popplewell handed down their judgment, ruling that each of the six main arguments put forward by the NMA lacked any foundation.

The court has awarded the PRP its full costs and has refused the NMA permission to appeal.

David Wolfe, Chair of the PRP, said:

‘This judgment categorically and bluntly rejects all of the NMA’s arguments, and confirms that the PRP board acted independently, transparently and correctly when we recognised IMPRESS.

‘The Judges considered the findings of the Leveson report and the procedures that we followed when making our decision, and found that the NMA’s case didn’t stack up.

‘The PRP board recognised IMPRESS because the regulator meets the 29 criteria in the Royal Charter – it’s as simple as that. Our decision followed three rounds of open consultation, during which the NMA and others advanced their views, and there was rigorous examination of the regulator’s application. We are pleased that the court noted the thoroughness of our assessment process, and we will continue to work in the public interest to promote a free press in a free and fair society’.

During the case, the NMA argued that IMPRESS should not be recognised due to the size of its support. Dismissing this, the Judges found:

Paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 of the Charter entitles and requires the PRP to grant recognition to a “Regulator”, defined in paragraph 1(a) of Schedule 4 as “an independent body formed by or on behalf of relevant publishers for the purpose of conducting regulatory activities in relation to their publications”.

IMPRESS plainly meets this qualification as formed on behalf of publishers for the purpose of regulating them.

There is simply no size requirement in the Charter biting on a Regulator.

The NMA tried to advance the argument that IMPRESS should not have been recognised because it is funded by an independent trust and it relies on third party funding. Rejecting this argument, the court ruled that:

The Charter’s plain language shows that funding by the members of a Regulator is not required, only agreement as to funding from that section of the industry which agrees to be regulated by it. Members of IMPRESS so agree when signing up.

The NMA challenged that because of its funding arrangements, IMPRESS lacks the appearance of independence, and so the PRP should not have recognised it. Rejecting this position outright, the judgment states:

There was before us no suggestion that the PRP applied the wrong approach.

In our view the PRP scrupulously considered the robustness of the structures and satisfied itself that they did not permit Mr Mosley to exert influence.

During proceedings, the NMA argued that the IMPRESS Board lacked impartiality. Dismissing that, the judges said:

In our view the PRP’s function is not to appoint, or approve appointment of, members of the Board. That is for the appointment panel.

NMA’s argument is hopeless on the facts.

The Panel dealt with this issue properly. It was satisfied that IMPRESS’ appointment panel had satisfied itself of the Board’s ability to act fairly and impartially.

Another of the NMA’s arguments related to the fact that when IMPRESS applied for recognition, it had adopted the Editors’ Code as its standards code. Referring to the preamble in the Charter, the judgment concluded:

There was no requirement to adopt the Editor’s code save as an initial code. That is what IMPRESS did: the members signed up to it and it was and remains in force for them. That IMPRESS said it would consult on and replace it with a new code is what the legislative regime envisages. The PRP will review the new code; if that code passes muster the PRP need do nothing. If it does not, the PRP can put in place an ad hoc recognition review.

The final of the NMA’s challenges suggested that IMPRESS was required to have a serving editor on its code committee. Referring to the Charter, the judgment dismissed this outright:

The requirement for which NMA argues is simply not found within Criteria 7: “may” means may. … Nothing in the Charter requires the editor’s publication to be by a “relevant publisher” or to be a member of IMPRESS.

The full judgment is available online.