High Court judge Mr Justice Vos has ordered firms involved in the wave of phone-hacking cases to find a more efficient method of working or risk their clients being forced into a group litigation order [GLO] represented by a single firm.
The move comes in response to claims that costs in cases that have so far settled on the court steps have reached £10m so far.
A source close to the case said: “The judge wants to be fair to both sides. He recognises that they [News International] have done some wrongs but he still needs to be fair.”
According to the source several firms are queuing up to bring claims against the now defunct News of the World. They includes Collyer Bristow, Carter Ruck, Bindmans, Harbottle & Lewis, Hill Dickinson and Malletts.
However, the Vos J has raised concerns that this could inflate claimant costs to an unprecedented level.
“There’s a feeling that there needs to be one set of counsel and one firm agreeing to act for everyone,” the source said. “He [Vos J] is threatening to introduce a GLO. It was first mentioned in April last year, but it never happened. Now it could. It’s the sword hanging over the lawyers’ heads.”
The firms have been given until April to hammer out an arrangement that would streamline the cases and avoid unnecessary costs, the source said.
Currently there are four firms acting for dozens of clients who allege that their mobile phones were hacked by defunct News International tabloid News of the World. They are Atkins Thomson, Steel & Shamash, Taylor Hampton and Mishcon de Reya.
When singer Charlotte Church settled her case against News International last month her legal team, made up of Lee & Thompson litigation chief Mike Brookes and 5RB’s David Sherborne, are believed to have amassed costs of £300,000 on a conditional fee basis.
There are concerns that forcing the claimants to join a GLO would cause conflicts for firms while also raising issues with client loyalty.
“These are people who are used to instructing lawyers, they have loyal relationships. To force them to use alternative lawyers could cause problems,” a source said.
Meanwhile, it emerged last week that News International was taking steps to take control of its legal spend by instructing Linklaters on all phone-hacking claims against it in place of Olswang (15 March 2012).
It is understood that News International had wanted to deal with just one firm rather than spending on two. Olswang officially replaced Farrer & Co as advisers to News International in October, advising the publisher on an internal review of its practices while also managing the litigation.
Greater judicial control of cases is becoming a more common feature in the post-Jackson environment with judges being encouraged to keep a close eye on costs.
Speaking in November Lord Justice Jackson said: “The goal of the present round of reforms is to enable both practitioners and the courts to deliver the best possible service to civil litigants at the lowest possible cost” (23 November 2011).