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Ministers believed to be suppressing legal advice

The Government is understood to be suppressing legal advice it has received about the legality of its plans to implement a new system of press regulation by Royal Charter, reports The Telegraph.

The Government's proposal is to use a Royal Charter to create a new system for regulating the press. The system will impose heavy new fines on those who fail to adhere to the regulators code. The system will also make it easier and cheaper to bring a complaint against a newspaper or media outlet.

It is understood that four leading QCs have told the Government that the proposed plan to regulate the press would run contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, and will need revision to become law.

The UK has had a free press for much of the past 300 years; however, in recent decades the role of the press has come under scrutiny.

The press then faced unprecedented attention after it was revealed that journalists had routinely tapped the voicemails of leading public figures and victims of crime, had paid the police for insider information, and had been routinely involved in slurring individuals who could not afford to challenge the stories written about them.

A string of scandals centred on the now defunct News of the World newspaper resulted in its closure, and the Leveson Inquiry's recommendations for a statutory press regulator, effectively brought the UK press under government control.

One Conservative MP, Philip Davies, called for the legal advice on the Government's proposals to be published.

"A free press is a cornerstone of a free society. You can't just throw away hundreds of years of free speech and a free press willy nilly," he told The Telegraph.

"If the Government have gone down this road of having statutory regulation of the press, it should only be done in a way that we can all see exactly what the situation is. There should be nothing for them to hide," he added.