23 March 2018
The bell tolled on the Press Standards Board of Finance's (PressBoF) endeavours to stall the sealing of the cross-party royal charter on press regulation late on Wednesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, the High Court had refused PressBoF's request for an injunction to prevent the sealing of the cross-party charter and PressBoF's application for permission to seek judicial review of the rejection of its rival proposal, describing the action's merits as ‘weak at best'. So in a last-ditch attempt to derail the cross-party charter, PressBoF submitted an emergency application to the Court of Appeal seeking an interim injunction pending further legal action. But the Court of Appeal was unimpressed and dealt a decisive blow to PressBoF's plans, dismissing the appeal. So does this mark the dying throws of the press' attempts to avoid the cross-party approved proposal? Well, it seems the old dog has some life in it yet. Unbowed, the press has blasted the cross-party charter as state interference which seriously threatens freedom of speech and has stated that it intends to seek to appeal the High Court's decision to refuse its judicial review application within the next 7 days. Georgina Bayley, an associate at Withers who specialises in judicial review claims remarked: ‘My feeling is that the odds are stacked pretty heavily against PressBoF. Given the Court of Appeal's refusal to grant an interim injunction, it seems very unlikely that the Court of Appeal will now go against that decision and grant permission to appeal. I am not surprised that they are taking some time to question whether it is worth one last attempt.' Aside from what (if any) further legal action will be taken, the real unknown is how things will pan out in practice. Many voices in the press have declared that they will never sign up to the system of regulation that will be established under the cross-party royal charter — and will instead proceed with plans to establish a rival, industry regulator. However, those outlets who do not sign up to the royal charter regulator will find themselves staring down the double barrel of liability for both their own legal costs and those of their opponent – whether they win or lose at court. Just how determined the press are not to play cross-party approved ball? Only time will tell.