• Five-member expert group to be led by Court of Session judge
• Body to examine implications for Scots law
The body was unveiled by the Scottish Government yesterday. However, it has already prompted threats of an opposition boycott over its make-up.
Industry chiefs are also concerned that First Minister Alex Salmond’s government wants to draw up new laws to enshrine any new regulatory body’s authority, compared with the less hardline approach being adopted by Prime Minister David Cameron south of the Border.
The panel will include public law expert Professor Neil Walker from the University of Edinburgh, Scotsman columnist and former Sunday Mail assistant editor Ruth Wishart, now a prominent supporter of independence. David Sinclair of Victim Support Scotland, a former journalist, will also be on the panel along with Peter Watson, a visiting law professor at Strathclyde University.
The body will consider the findings and recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson – particularly on how a new system of independent self-regulation of the press could work in Scotland.
Mr Salmond said: “Press regulation is a devolved responsibility. There have been victims of press malpractice in Scotland and Scotland has its own unique legal system.
“It is, therefore, unarguable that we in Scotland need to make our own response to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson in his report – particularly on the proposal for statutory underpinning in Scots law of a new, independent self-regulation system for the press.
“This expert panel will offer advice on the most appropriate way to approach such statutory underpinning in Scotland, bearing in mind our legal system, developments elsewhere in the United Kingdom and experience internationally. What happens thereafter will be a matter for the parliament.”
Opposition parties were invited to nominate possible members of the panel. Labour’s nominee, the advocate and former MSP Brian Fitzpatrick, was rejected.
“We didn’t expect a veto,” a Labour spokesman said last night.
“What we expected was that he [Mr Salmond] would at least run past all the parties who would be on the expert panel. He didn’t run it past any of us. He just press-released it, which makes it look like it really is a PR stunt.
“So we’re writing to him. We will await a response to our letter but it does put our participation in the expert group in doubt.”
The inclusion of Ms Wishart “casts doubt” on the independence of this expert panel group, the Labour spokesman added.
“He [Salmond] specifically asked for non-practising politicians,” he said.
“She may not have been a politician in the past, but she’s clearly acting as a politician now.
“We would have loved the opportunity to discuss that with the First Minister, but he hasn’t afforded us that.”
Ms Wishart addressed a pro-independence rally earlier this year, but the Yes Scotland campaign have played down her involvement.
“Ruth Wishart, a distinguished journalist, is one of many thousands of Scots who support independence and Yes Scotland,” he said.
“Her professional experience and credentials clearly qualify her for this role which is entirely a matter for the Scottish Government.”
Mr Salmond insisted in a
letter to Labour’s Johann
Lamont last night that all party leaders were given “advance notice” of the panel, adding that the inclusion of Mr Fitzpatick would have “unbalanced the panel.”
“I opted for the candidate with the greatest experience in defamation – this decision was in no way made on political grounds” he added.
Jim Chisholm, of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, held talks with Mr Salmond on Wednesday.
“Any kind of statutory regulation or underpinning is unnecessary and is not a positive step forward in terms of a free press,” he said.
“That remains our position.”
A COLUMNIST for The Scotsman and veteran broadcaster with extensive experience of the media, Wishart has held many high-ranking editorial posts in Scottish newspapers throughout
her career. She has also presented series for both Radio Scotland and Radio 4.
THE regius professor of public law and the law of nature and nations at the school of law, University of Edinburgh has also taught in Aberdeen and Florence, Italy. His main area of expertise is constitutional theory and in 2008 he conducted a review of final appellate jurisdiction in Scotland
SENIOR partner and head of litigation at Levy & McRae with expertise in areas such as media, licensing, employment law and tax and revenue investigations. Part-time sheriff and visiting professor at the School of
Law, University of Strathclyde.
HEAD of communications at Victims Support Scotland since 2006, he is a former assistant editor of the Herald newspaper, having worked there from 1975 – 2006. President of the National Union of Journalists in 1990-91.