Judge in phone hacking case warns inquiry could take more than a year, dismisses critics

The British judge overseeing an inquiry into News International's phone hacking scandal has warned that the widening investigation could take up to a year or more.

Lord Justice Leveson, who was appointed by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to lead the independent investigation, held the first formal meeting with investigators in London on Thursday.

In his first public remarks since his appointment, Leveson said that because the scope of the inquiry has already grown "very substantially," his team may miss its original target of 12 months to present its findings.

Leveson reiterated that case will focus closely on "the culture practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter's relationship with the public, the police and politicians."

The inquiry will at first "focus primarily on what I am calling the relationship between the press and the public and the related issue of press regulation," he said.

Leveson said the first public event tied to the inquiry--a "seminar on the ethics of journalism and the practices and pressures of investigative journalism""--will be held in September. "At some stage there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom."

He also said he reserves the right to call witnesses and request documentation, though he has yet to do so.

Leveson called on the press to cooperate with the inquiry--and to keep an open mind. "It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists then operating at the News of the World," he said. "But I would encourage all to take a wider picture of the public good and help grapple with the width and depth of the problem."

The judge also dismissed criticism of his own social ties to the Murdoch family. "Had I the slightest doubt about my own position, I would not have accepted the appointment," Leveson said. "I am satisfied that what the panelists have said creates no conflict of interest for them or for me."