Legal Brief: New World Order?

The past two weeks have been seismic for the media industry, with allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World (NoW) leading first to the newspaper’s closure and then to the dropping of its parent company’s bid for BSkyB.

As always, when there’s a big story breaking there are lawyers involved – in this case, a large number.

Olswang was the first winner. The firm picked up a mandate from News International, NoW’s publisher and the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, to carry out a review of the company’s code of practice. Olswang is also instructed to advise News International on the full range of phone hacking allegations – despite the firm normally acting for The Guardian, the paper which has taken the lead on investigating the claims (read more).

The alleged victims of the hacking have also turned to lawyers. Firms including Taylor Hampton, Collyer Bristow and Mishcon de Reya are all involved.

Payne Hicks Beach partner Sarah Webb is the long-term legal advisor to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator alleged to have been at the centre of the hacking.

A criminal investigation into the allegations is also underway, and News Corp has picked heavyweight representation. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Matrix Chambers’ Ken Macdonald QC, is acting for the company’s board, instructed by Ben Rose of criminal firm Hickman & Rose (read more).

The closure of the paper gives rise to the potential for employment claims. City firm Silverman Sherliker has launched an action group for NoW employees, with the intention of launching a group claim (read more).

While most firms have gained from the scandal, some lost work after News Corp dropped the BSkyB bid. Allen & Overy (A&O) was providing corporate and competition advice to News Corp alongside Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. On the other side, Herbert Smith acted for BSkyB (read more).

A&O also got dragged into the saga as it emerged that employees could have been targeted by The Sunday Times when the paper was tracking down information about a flat bought by then-Chancellor Gordon Brown (read more). Harbottle & Lewis, which acted on a 2007 investigation into phone hacking, also found itself in the news after emails were retrieved from the firm (read more).

The latest legal development inside News International was the departure of general counsel Tom Crone (read more), although it remains unclear whether Crone resigned or was asked to leave.

With more enquiries to come, led by Lord Justice Leveson, the phone hacking scandal looks set to keep lawyers busy for months.

joanne.harris@thelawyer.com