News of the World publisher settles 19 phone-hacking claims

Linklaters partner Christa Band and 11 South Square’s Michael Silverleaf QC have driven settlement talks for News Group Newspapers (NGN) over allegations of phone hacking made against the News of the World (NoW).

Christa Band
Christa Band

At a pre-trial application hearing held today in front of Mr Justice Vos, lawyers acting for the five test claimants said a settlement between the parties was close. Settlement has been reached in 19 of the estimated 60 cases today and, when talks complete, it is understood that an agreement will be reached in around 50 of the outstanding claims.

News International set up a £20m compensation scheme in April last year in an attempt to settle the claims before they reached the high court.

It is understood that Band and Silverleaf have been hammering out Part 36 settlement offers inside Olswang’s offices. Olswang was drafted in by the newspaper group last July to advise it on a code of practice in the aftermath of the hacking scandal (5 July 2011).

Vos J was due to hear five test cases relating to the scandal next month (2 January 2012). The claimants had been grouped according to the themes of their claims, and should one settle contingency cases were been lined up.

Mr Justice Vos
Mr Justice Vos

The claimants were selected to reflect the range of victims and include Sheila Henry, the mother of 7/7 bomb victim Christian Small, and Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) partner Graham Shear, the former lawyer to Chelsea FC footballer Ashley Cole.

Statements are currently being read out in court revealing details of the payments.

Chris Bryant MP, who was represented by Bindmans partner Tamsin Allen and Matrix Chambers’ Hugh Tomlinson QC has accepted £30,000 in damages plus legal costs.

Had the claimants turned down the offer and found themselves being awarded less by the court they would have ended up liable for NGN’s legal costs, which are thought to run to millions of pounds.

Also among the test claimants was former footballer Paul Gascoigne, who was represented by Steel & Shamash partner Gerald Shamash instructing Hogarth Chambers’ Jeremy Reed. Vos J was told this morning that the case had been settled.

Despite settlements in these cases, media lawyers said NGN would continue to come under legal pressure from the hacking scandal (19 January 2012).

It was first revealed by The Lawyer last July that Linklaters had been drafted in to advise News International, although the extent of the mandate remained unclear. The appointment of Band, who played a pivotal role in the litigation arising out of Vodafone’s bid for  Mannesmann in 2000, underlines how seriously the group is taking the claims made against it (21 July 2011).

The test cases line up

The claimant lawyers:

Matrix silk Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori instructed by (1) Bindmans partner Tamsin Allen for Chris Bryant MP

Hogarth Chambers’ Jeremy Reed instructed by (1) Mishcon partner Charlotte Harris for Skylet Andrews; (2) Steel & Shamash partner Gerald Shamash for Paul Gascoigne; and (3) Taylor Hampton solicitor advocate Mark Lewis for Sheila Henry;

5RB’s David Sherborne instructed by (5) Atkins Thomson partner Mark Thomson for Jude Law; (6) BLP partner Graham Shear in his own action

Michael Silverleaf QC
Michael Silverleaf QC

Defendants: Linklaters partner Christa Band and Olswang partner Dan Tench instructed Blackstone’s Dinah Rose QC and 11 South Square’s Michael Silverleaf QC for NGN