London: Britain should introduce the first press law since the 17th century to rein-in an "outrageous" press which had "wreaked havoc" in the lives of innocent people, a major inquiry set up after the phone-hacking scandal in Rupert Murdoch`s tabloid recommended on Thursday.
In his damning report running into 2000-pages, Lord Justice Brian Leveson said the British press must create a new and tough regulator but it had to be backed by legislation to ensure it was effective.
He said the press had failed to properly regulate itself in the past, but he believed the law could be used to "validate" a new body.
Leveson said that the British newspaper industry had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people" and "acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist."
He said behaviour of the press "at times, can only be described as outrageous."
"The press has to be accountable to the public in whose interests it claims to be acting and must show respect for the rights of others," Leveson said in his report based on eight months of testimony from hacking victims, politicians and media figures.
"It should not be acceptable that it uses its voice, power, and authority to undermine the ability of society to require that regulation is not a free for all, to be ignored with impunity.
"The answer to the question who guards the guardians, should not be `no-one`."
Leveson acknowledged that all of the press served the country "very well for the vast majority of the time".
However, critics warns that state regulation would lead to newspaper licensing, which was brought in during the English Civil War in 1643 and scrapped 50 years later under William III.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had set up the inquiry last year after it emerged that journalists at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid of Rupert Murdoch had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old murdered schoolgirl, as well as targeting dozens of crime victims, celebrities and politicians.
British police have launched three linked investigations into misdeeds by newspapers, while Cameron`s former spokesman Andy Coulson and ex-Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks have both been charged with phone hacking and bribery.
Meanwhile, reacting to Leveson`s report, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had serious concerns about proposals.
"I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation," Cameron said in a statement after senior judge Brian Leveson handed down his report.
"We will have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land... We should think very, very carefully before crossing this line," Cameron said.
Currently, the British press is self-regulated through the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
But Leveson said that a statutory body such as Ofcom should take responsibility for monitoring an overhauled PCC.
He said he wanted the industry to sign up to a legally- binding arbitration process that would force newspapers to deal effectively with complaints.
The new body could have the power to "sanction" newspapers and fund investigations, while those titles which refused to join could face direct regulation by Ofcom.
"Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press," he said.
Leveson rejected a proposal from the press itself to enforce standards through contracts, saying he could not see how it could be independent.
"There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist. This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained," the judge wrote.
Leveson said that people like the McCanns and the parents of Milly Dowler had "devastating" experiences at the hands of the press, and that parts of the industry viewed celebrities as little more than "fair game".
However, there was specific criticism levelled at the News of the World, and by implication, its owner, Rupert Murdoch`s News Corporation.
Leveson said that "most responsible corporate entities would be appalled that employees were or could be involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business. Not so at the News of the World."