In my day, ‘quasi-judicial’ actually meant something. Why Jeremy Hunt should never have been allowed to decide on BSkyB in the first place.

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2012

The Leveson inquiry has today laid bare the extent of the behind-the-scenes support that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and Tory leader David Cameron offered the Murdochs ahead of News Corp’s attempted takeover of BSkyB.

What is in fact astonishing is that Jeremy Hunt was ever allowed near this decision in the first place, given the quasi-judicial nature of the decision-making process. Here’s just one snippet from today’s evidence as reported by The Guardian:

The culture secretary then phoned Michel directly, according to Michel’s email, on 15 July 2011 [actually 15 June, 2010 – ST] to say that he had just given an interview to the Financial Times. Ahead of publication, Hunt told Michel – according to the News Corp’s lobbyist’s email – that he had told the newspaper that “he didn’t see any problems” with the News Corp bid for Sky.

In other words, four months before he was handed a major quasi-judicial decision to make, Jeremy Hunt had already publicly declared his support for the Murdichs’ deal.

My experience of quasi-judicial matters is much more mundane — I spent six years on a council planning committee. And during that time the sanctity of the quasi-judicial nature of councillors’ decision-making was hammered into us by council officials on a regular basis. Here’s what Oxford city council’s code of conduct says about it:

If a councillor has publicly supported a particular outcome, it will be very difficult for them to appear to make up their mind at committee and they should not vote.

Quite. And yet cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell decided in December 2010 that Jeremy Hunt was indeed a fit and proper person to fulfil his quasi-judicial responsibilities properly. As Labour’s John Denham remarked at the time:

“It is very hard to see how any decision Jeremy Hunt makes will enjoy complete confidence.”

It’s even harder to see now.