While the Leveson Inquiry and Operation Weeting (the police investigation into phone hacking) carry on amid considerable public attention, the third aspect of the fallout from the phone hacking affair, the civil claims against News Group Newspapers (NGN), also continues.
Over the last few months a series of hearings have taken place in the High Court to finalise the formation of a new Claimant Group in the latest round of actions against the former publisher of the News of the World. Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing the Claimant Group, informed Mr Justice Vos on 18 May 2012 that there are currently 46 active claims against NGN. The Claimants emanate from a variety of industries and backgrounds, from the worlds of music, television, politics and sport, and include a number of Carter-Ruck clients.
A prerequisite to joining the Claimant Group is that the claim against NGN must be for a breach of privacy/confidence and/or harassment and/or a breach of the Data Protection Act. The claim does not, however, have to include phone hacking, but may involve a claim for computer hacking or “any other investigative method” (such as surveillance) carried out by NGN. However, NGN’s conduct must relate to one or more of such activities and a straightforward privacy claim would not fall within the remit of this litigation. As Mr Tomlinson informed Mr Justice Vos: “your Lordship won’t have the benefit of cases involving Premiership footballers and their girlfriends, unless there is phone hacking or email hacking or some other unlawful investigation”.
In practice, the vast majority of the claims to date and those in the new Claimant Group relate to phone hacking by the News of the World. However, there may well be claims emerging in the future that allege phone or computer hacking by The Sun, a separate NGN title. In an important decision, Mr Justice Vos ordered that cases against The Sun would also fall within the new Claimant Group. How this will work in practice will be interesting to see as NGN has now admitted many of the phone hacking allegations made against the News of the World but not in respect of The Sun. Claims against The Sun are therefore likely to be more contentious and may not fit neatly into the scheme of the litigation and so Mr Justice Vos has provided a mechanism whereby Claimants with claims which are only against The Sun may ask him for specific directions on how their case should be handled.
With the new Claimant Group formed, it is envisaged that the litigation will now proceed with speed and Mr Justice Vos has already set down a detailed timetable to Trial. If appropriate, a handful of cases will be selected as Lead Cases in October 2012 and a four week Trial has been listed to start on 18 February 2013. With settlement discussions likely to take place in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how many of the current 46 claims remain active by that date.
Carter-Ruck is currently representing a number of clients in the phone hacking civil litigation. If you require advice regarding a phone hacking claim, please contact Ruth Collard or Luke Staiano.