Harbottle forbidden from responding to News International's put-down

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  • This is a smoke screen. Harbottle have two options, which given that they do these areas of the law, they are well aware of:
    1) RM has said that they made a "major mistake" in a newspaper article. If this is not true, they are entitled to sue RM personally and New Corp and the Wall Street Journal for defamation.
    2) There is case law in the area of breach of confidence when the confidence can be lost or usurped to correct an inaccuracy or misinformation. Likewise if one of the parties in the confidential relationship chooses to discuss aspects of that relationship the confidence is lost.
    So in relation to 2) above, if Harbottle want to come out fighting then they can. I say Harbottle should put up or shut up?

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  • Its tough when a law firm of impeccable reputation cannot answer back. But that is why our duties of confidentiality and privilege are there to protect our clients in the first place. Another clue to the answer of what their retainer actually was may lie in a quote from Glen Aitcheson, Harbottle and Lewis’ managing partner in a Bloomberg phone interview. The company refused, Mr Aitcheson is quoted “so we are still unable to respond in any detail as to our advice or the scope of our instructions in 2007, which is a matter of great regret,”. The clue lies in the word scope. I suspect Harbottle & Lewis would like to explain what they were actually asked to do in the first place, namely their scope of work which may have been very limited in both range and conclusion. I would guess that a fee would have been agreed based on that scope. The unwanted publicity only serves as a reminder to law firms to ask themselves questions when taking on a high profile brief or one that requires examining possible wrong doing whether it can be carried out to the standards of the firm on the basis of the intended scope. Its that 20:20 hindsight thing.

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  • Lord McDonald has seen the documentation relating to Harbottle & Lewis's work for News International, and the emails which H&L was asked to review. On that basis and the content of the emails, he has described H&L's advice as 'incomprehensible'.
    This seems to me to be damning, whatever the specific wording of H&L's retainer may be.

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  • H & L can hardly complain - yet.
    The vast majority of the general public had probably never heard of H & L until last week. They have received unprecedented exposure as a result of Murdoch's criticism and if it does subsequently transpire that Murdoch was talking out of his back end, then not only will H & L's reputation emerge intact on the back of this saga, but their profile will be far, far bigger than it was ever likely to be without having gone through it.
    Of course, Murdoch could be spot on in which case H & L are all but finished...

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  • What about the Watson Farley Williams appearance on Dispatches on Monday? Is that news or what?

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  • Harbottles will I am afraid be left to swing in the wind.
    They cannot repudiate their duty of confidentiality and News Int cannot be forced to disclose their advice as it is legally privileged.
    This is alas the risk inherent in being a lawyer.

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  • Don't see how they can sue RM. Occasional of absolute privilege?
    And accurate press reports enjoy qualified privilege.

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  • Can you imagine how much H&L's partners are just dying to say something?! Not allowing a lawyer to refute a slagging off in public is just plain cruel. The partnership at H&L will probably spontaneously combust if they are kept muzzled for much longer.

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