Charles Russell in Hello! blunder

Judge slams firm over inadvertant submission of false evidence; administrative cockup blamed

Charles Russell, the firm defending Hello! against Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, has been critisised by the judge for inadvertently submitting false evidence to the Court of Appeal when the case began in 2000.

The Douglases, with celebrity magazine OK!, are suing Hello! for arranging unauthorised photos of their wedding in 2000, and the false evidence was a factor in the Court of Appeal ruling in December 2000 which lifted an injunction the claimants had slapped on Hello! to stop it publishing the pictures.

The evidence, contained in a witness statement given to the Court of Appeal in the name of Hello! publisher Sally Cartwright, said Hello! had not arranged the pictures but bought them on the open market.

This fact was found to be false by the Vice Chancellor Andrew Morritt in January this year, although he did say a trial judge may reach a different conclusion with regard to this misleading evidence. Cartwright has since told the High Court that she does not know where that part of the statement came from.

In the High Court last week, Charles Russell partner and Hello!'s main lawyer Chris Hutchings was cross-examined by the couple's barrister Michael Tugenhadt QC over how such a false statement could have been submitted to the Court of Appeal.

The High Court judge Mr Justice Lindsay said it was “lamentable that the Court of Appeal should have had before them a version of Mrs Cartwright's evidence that included paragraphs she would not have wanted to lay before them”.

Hutchings told the High Court the evidence was the result of an administrative cockup and the Court of Appeal had obviously been given the wrong draft of Cartwright's statement.

“I think it was very much an administrative blunder rather than anything else… they were draft statements rather than final statements. I think that is the genesis of the problem,” the court transcripts record Hutchings as saying.

Hutchings, who was originally brought to the stand by Hello!'s QC James Price, supported the fact that the whole affair was an administrative blunder by telling the judge that Theodore Goddard, the claimant's law firm, had always had the correct version of Cartwright's witness statement, minus the false evidence.

Hutchings submitted 11 witness statements to the court prior to his cross-examination and they all went unchallenged by the other side's legal team.