11 September 2000
"To publish and be damned" is not the only legal headache a newspaper and magazine publisher such as Trinity Mirror faces. Its commercial interests cover 165 national and regional newspapers, sports publications, magazines, managing and staging exhibitions, and also provides internet services.
Last year, Trinity acquired the Mirror Group - owner of the Sunday Mirror, The Mirror and The Daily Record among others - after fighting off Regional Independent Media.
The publishing legacy of Trinity Mirror began with the Liverpool Daily Post in 1855. It went public in 1904, and in 1947 began its first tentative steps towards creating a newspaper empire when Trinity acquired three newspapers.
But it was not until the 1990s that it embarked on a major expansionist drive. The company disposed of several ancillary operations to concentrate on the acquisition of Scottish & Universal Newspapers, Argus Press, Blackmore Vale, Huddersfield Newspapers and the Thomson Corporation, in a bid to increase its newspaper portfolio to become the largest regional newspaper publisher in the UK. It acquired the Mirror Group after the Maxwell pension scandal weakened the company.
Group legal manager Charles Collier-Wright worked with controversial media tycoon Robert Maxwell during the revolutionary transformation of the newspaper industry. He says: "Maxwell benefited on the back of the changes brought about by others because they gave publishers the possibility of producing newspapers more cheaply than before."
Collier-Wright was formerly a barrister at Francis Taylor Building (Nicholas Valios QC), but a libel reading experience for The Daily Express introduced him to the legal publishing world. He then went on to become legal editorial adviser to the Sunday Mirror, People and The Daily Mirror in 1982, and became legal manager in 1988. He moved away from editorial legal work after he was promoted to the position of group legal manager in 1997.
Robert Maxwell even offered Collier-Wright legal advice on the basis of his dealings as owner of the group's newspaper operations. Collier-Wright recalls: "[Maxwell] told me he knew a lot about the law and said that if I had any legal worries, I should go to him."
But legal problems can appear through a variety of guises in the publishing world. This includes defamation and intellectual property matters such as copyright, contracts, corporate and commercial matters. Collier-Wright says: "We have lawyers on both the commercial and media side."
All of the staff lawyers including Collier-Wright report to legal director and company secretary Paul Vickers. The legal team consists of assistant company secretary Roger Skelsey, specialist in competition Lindey Campbell, and editorial lawyers Marcus Partington and Paul Mottran who are led by Martin Cruddace. Collier-Wright says: "Some of the work is handled in-house but at least half of it is done externally."
The decision to use external or internal legal advice is taken after discussions with the legal director. Collier-Wright says: "The staff lawyers will consult Paul Vickers about whether the work ought to be done in-house or go out externally. The staff lawyer ultimately has responsibility subject to authority of the legal director."
Specialism seems to be a key requirement for external legal service providers. Collier-Wright says: "For media matters, we use specialist law firms like Davenport Lyons, Swepstone Walsh and Olswang. We mainly use Lovells for commercial and intellectual property matters."
In corporate matters, the group switched from using Lovells to Norton Rose because of its long-term relationship with Trinity. "Lovells had a long-term relationship with the Mirror Group but Trinity Mirror now uses Norton Rose on corporate matters," says Collier-Wright.
The legal arrangements of the group are clearly divided. Collier-Wright says: "Staff lawyers are only attached to the Mirror titles but regional papers can get advice from London." Collier-Wright himself will handle enquiries from the regional titles. Editorial work is treated differently and always done in-house unless litigation is involved.
The group uses magic circle chambers Brick Court Chambers and 5 Raymond Buildings for defamation work and 4-5 Gray's Inn Square for intellectual property matters. Collier-Wright says: "We use these chambers for their knowledge of the business, reliability and their expertise."
Collier-Wright says that his role is variable. "I have a roving role covering all legal aspects of the business. I contribute to the editorial legal function but that work is now covered by the three editorial lawyers. However, I do advise the regional newspaper titles and other group-wide editorial issues as and when required."
Vickers is responsible for all the business elements relating to Trinity Mirror and is currently handling the scandal relating to circulation figures for the Birmingham titles, previously owned by Mirror Group, being inflated over a number of years. The incident may cost Trinity Mirror an estimated £20m in compensation to advertising agencies.
Head of legal
|Sector||Newspaper and magazine publishing|
|FTSE 250 ranking||48|
|Head of legal||Charles Collier-Wright|
|Reporting to||Legal director and compnay secretary Paul Vickers|
|Main location for lawyers||Canary Wharf and Chester|
|Main law firms||Davenport Lyons, Lovells, Norton Rose, Olswang and Swepstone Walsh|
||Chambers||Brick Court Chambers, 4-5 Gray's Inn Square and 5 Raymond Buildings|