Lawyers predict changes to privacy pay-outs after News of the World scandal

Lawyers are gearing up for potential changes to invasion of privacy compensation in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal.

Discussions on compensation have come after The Guardian reported that Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, was paid £700,000 in a settlement after his phone was tapped. The sum is thought to have included £400,000 in damages.

In today’s issue of The Lawyer Russell Jones & Walker partner Jeremy Clarke-Williams argues that, while damages have traditionally been modest, newspapers appear to recognise the value placed on a gross invasion of privacy should be much higher.

Schillings partner Gideon Benaim said: “I’ve no doubt that the level of damages for serious invasions of privacy will increase substantially. On the whole, awards of damages have been far too low.

“It must be remembered that once privacy has been invaded, the disclosed facts can rarely be made private again. Damages ought to properly reflect this.”

Taylor’s settlement far exceeds the highest amount awarded via the courts. Last year Max Mosley was awarded £60,000 in damages after winning a privacy action against the News of the World.

Matthew Nicklin of 5 Raymond Buildings said: “There’s no denying that the sum awarded to Gordon Taylor was considerably higher [than that awarded to Max Mosley]. But it’s not clear how that figure breaks down. Yes, there’s potential for compensation to be increased, but it would have to be done via the court of appeal.”

Earlier this month The Lawyer reported that a number of firms are gearing up for a wave of litigation stemming from the phone hacking allegations (10 July 2009).

Teacher Stern Selby partner Graham Shear has assembled a team including Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers and David Sherborne of 5 Raymond Buildings to deal with inquiries from those affected by the allegations.

Shear said: “While the courts have maintained a balanced but conservative view to

date, I don’t think the judiciary will be at all impressed if any newspaper has been involved in an illegal activity like phone hacking that results in the unwarranted invasion of an individual’s inherent right to privacy.

“Such a situation’s likely to be reflected in the amount of damages awarded.”