NightJack and phone-hacking – spending big to settle small?

Last week Mr Justice Vos gave his latest directions in the second tranche of News of the World phone-hacking cases.

After refereeing further disclosure applications between lead counsel for the claimants, Matrix Chambers’ Hugh Tomlinson QC, and lead counsel for News Group Newspapers (NGN), Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC, Vos J concluded that there was no need for a costly £500,000 search of all documents disclosed to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) (see judgment).

So the next round of cases will proceed towards the June 2013 date, but can we expect any to make it to trial, with the defendants so eager to settle that they’ll fork out a fortune on legal fees?

The first tranche of mobile telephone voice interception (MTVI) cases was fixed for trial in February 2012, but all the cases were settled ahead of that date. The last one, brought by singer Charlotte Church, settled on the morning the trial was due to begin.

In total, disclosure has been given by the MPS in approximately 680 cases, and 154 claims have been issued in the second tranche. So far 82 of those cases have been settled.

Indeed, NGN has set up its own private compensation scheme presided over by Sir Charles Gray to allow those who prefer anonymity to be compensated outside these proceedings.

The claimants, too, wish to settle, but are concerned to know the facts about what happened by way of intrusion into their private lives before they attempt to do so – hence the latest application from Tomlinson for further information.

All outstanding phone-hacking cases are being handled for NGN by Linklaters litigation partner Christa Band and global litigation head Michael Bennett. The big-hitting duo were back in the news this week as they acted for another NGN publication, The Times (9 October 2012).

Linklaters was instructed by Times Newspapers to defend a damages claim relating to the now infamous case of the NightJack blogger, Lancashire detective Richard Horton, being outed by a The Timesreporter, who hacked into Horton’s personal email account in 2009. The paper didn’t disclose to a judge how it had discovered Horton’s identity when it succesfully applied to publish his identity.

That Linklaters was instructed in this instance may surprise some, especially for a £42,500 damages payout. Then again, as the total cost of the phone-hacking investigation by News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committee already exceeds £53m, perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock (16 May 2012).

In any event, Horton’s lawyer, Patrick Daulby of Taylor Hampton, secured an apology, damages and an estimated six-figure legal costs payout from the publishers of The Times, in response to the blogger’s claims of aggravated and exemplary damages for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and deceit.

It would appear that the media giant is prepared to spend big on legal fees for any claim of any size and it will be interesting to see whether any of the second tranche of cases make it all the way to trial.

– Read what a selection of media lawyers think about the future of press regulation