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If you thought the furore surrounding the News of the World (NoW) phone-hacking claims had died down, you were wrong.
Today, Mr Justice Vos is sitting in Court 16 of the Rolls Building to hear a pre-trial application, and word on the street is that these cases are expected to settle without a full hearing.
This long-running saga has seen NoW owners News Group Newspapers overhaul its roster of legal advisors and scout the City for some of the best litigators in town to help it put out the legal fires engulfing it.
Originally it was intended that Vos J, who has taken a practical approach to managing the case, would hear a series of test cases for breach of privacy against NGN. The claimants have been grouped according to the themes of their claims. If one should settle contingency cases have been lined up.
Currently there are 60 cases lined up against the publishing giant, all of which were launched before the 3 October 2011 deadline, with varying amounts of damages claimed.
The claimants have been selected to reflect the range of victims and include Sheila Henry, the mother of 7/7 bomb victim Christian Small, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) partner Graham Shear, the former lawyer to Chelsea FC footballer Ashley Cole.
The case was expected to be heard over four weeks from 23 January, but there has been a two-week delay, leading some to speculate that the parties are keen to get around a table and hammer out their problems (see story).
11 South Square’s Michael Silverleaf QC is believed to be leading the talks for NGN, although Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose has also been retained should the skills of an advocate be needed in court.
For the claimants, Matrix silk Hugh Tomlinson QC, Hogarth Chambers’ Jeremy Reed and 5RB’s David Sherborne are leading the charge.
Today’s hearing could be pivotal in changing the course of the high court proceedings. It is understood that NGN parent News International is keen for these cases to go away and for a lid to be put on the entire affair.
Media lawyers say a Part 36 offer by NGN could be attractive to the claimants; if they turn down a settlement offer it could leave them facing some hefty legal costs.
It wasn’t too long ago that the tabloid press was complaining that such a process was having a chilling effect on the freedom of expression. In this case, however, it would clearly be an advantage to the newspaper group.
These are tense times for the lawyers engaged in the phone hacking scandal. Today they step back into the eye of the media storm.