Barrister David Sherborne, who represents celebrities and members of public who claim they have been victims of press misbehaviour, told the Leveson Inquiry that newspaper bosses were “scared”.
The eight month-long inquiry, which ends on Tuesday, has focused more on what regulation the press wanted or did not want, he said, adding that the huge volume of evidence heard by the inquiry was only the “tip of the iceberg”.
Mr Sherborne reminded Lord Leveson, who will now consider his recommendations on regulation of the press, of evidence given by the parents of missing child Madeline McCann and the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
He told the inquiry that “bad journalists” were “on trial”.
“We are not here to focus on the good journalists. We don’t need an inquiry for them. We are here to consider the bad ones,” said Mr Sherborne.
“The press is on trial here, and not simply in this room but also out there in the court of public opinion. And they know it. That is why they are so scared of what evidence has been heard here.”
Mr Sherborne was making a closing submission on behalf of “victims” as the inquiry in London neared its end.
“Unless someone takes a grip, a very firm grip, of the tabloid press, we will be back to the same position as soon as the spotlight is turned off and the ink is dry on your report,” he told Lord Justice Leveson.
“And we are all concerned it may be payback time – payback for those who have sought to stand up. Hopefully the press will resist the temptation once this is over.”
The inquiry will also hear closing statements from Associated Newspapers, which publish the Daily Mail, Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian and News International.
Since it began in November 2011, the Leveson Inquiry has heard evidence from over 400 witnesses and seen 6,000 pages of evidence.