It has, once again, been a busy week in the “News of the World” phone hacking saga, both in Parliament and in the courts.
On Monday 28 March 2011, the “Guardian” also reported on the hearing the previous Friday before Mr Justice Vos in the case of Miller v NGN and Mulcaire and the retrieval of the lost email archive. It was noted that the “News of the World” revealed that its computers have retained an archive of potentially damning emails, which hitherto it had claimed had been lost. The “Financial Times” reported that News International had begun searching thousands of e-mails in its archives for references to Sienna Miller. The Press Gazette noted that, at the same hearing, the Metropolitan Police were ordered to disclose phone hacking information relating to the actor Jude Law and his personal assistant Ben Jackson.
On Tuesday 29 March 2011, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence from Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates and Shadow Justice Secretary Chris Bryant MP. It was reported in the Guardian, the Independent and the Financial Times – but no other national newspapers. A video of the hearing is available on Parliament TV. A lot of the evidence concerned the detail and chronology of the now abandoned narrow interpretation of the “interception offence” in RIPA. The Committee has announced that next Tuesday 5 April 2011, the DPP will also give evidence to the Committee and this may throw further light on the extent of the deployment of the legal advice in the original police investigation and how it affected their their subsequently conduct.
On Wednesday 30 March the Guardian reported that the Chair of the Homes Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz MP has written to Rebekah Brooks about details of payment to police officers. Here is the text of the letter
“I am writing concerning the current Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the unauthorised tapping of Mobile Communications.In March 2003, whilst editor of The Sun newspaper you gave evidence to the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. You stated that the newspaper had paid police officers for information.
Today during the Home Affairs Select Committee session with Deputy Commissioner John Yates this matter was raised again. I would be most grateful if you would let me know
- The number of police paid by The Sun newspaper whilst you were Editor?
- How much these police officers were paid?
- When the practice ceased?
I would be grateful if you could respond by midday on Monday 4th April.”
On the same day Mr Vaz wrote to Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates:
“Thank you for giving such full evidence to my Committee on Tuesday.
I wished to ask for some further information arising from your oral evidence. The Committee would find it very helpful to be provided with copies of the legal advice on the scope of the offence given to you in relation to your review of the Mulcaire case last autumn: both before and after the 1 October case conference at which you first learned of the DPP’s willingness to test a broader interpretation of the section 1 offence.
During the session you also mentioned the research that was being undertaken into the claims that police officers had been paid by newspapers for information. Please could you outline the remit of the research?
I would be grateful to receive your response by noon on Monday 4 April 2011.”
On Thursday 31 March 2011, Mr Justice Tugendhat gave judgment in the libel case brought by solicitor Mark Lewis against the Metropolitan Police arising out of email communications between the police solicitor and the Press Complaints Commission ( EWHC 781 (QB)). He held that the words complained of were capable of bearing the defamatory meaning that the claimant was a liar. He also held that evidence of the publishee’s reaction to the words was admissible. He refused to strike out the action as an abuse of the process and refused to give summary judgment on qualified privilege. The decision is another important judgment on the diminishing availability of qualified privilege for public authorities and on the fact specific Jameel abuse jurisdiction.
Also on Thursday 31 March 2011 the Joint Parliamentary Committee On Standards issued its report “Privilege: Hacking of members’ mobile phones“. It summarised the report as follows:
“The committee has not looked into specific allegations of hacking, some of which are currently under investigation by the prosecuting authorities or may become the subject of judicial review. Instead, the committee has considered whether hacking of MPs’ mobile phones, if it has occurred, may be a contempt of Parliament.
The committee has concluded that a specific act of hacking could potentially be a contempt, if it can be shown to have interfered with the work of the House or to have impeded or obstructed an MP from taking part in such work. It has also concluded that a series of acts of hacking could potentially be a contempt, if it can be shown that the hacking has interfered with the work of the House by creating a climate of insecurity for one or more MPs.
The committee looks forward to publication by the Government of a draft Privileges Bill in the present Session of Parliament. It proposes that the draft Bill should include a definition of what is meant by ‘contempt of Parliament’ and that the Bill should codify Parliament’s powers to impose sanctions, including a power for the House of Commons to fine.
The committee points out that hacking is an offence under the criminal law—although it also notes that the law as it relates to hacking is currently being reviewed by another Committee of the House—and that civil law remedies may be available to MPs, just as they are available to others. It suggests that MPs and the House should pursue legal remedies in preference to proceeding against hackers for contempt. And it recommends that only in exceptional circumstances should a hacker who has been brought before a court of law be proceeded against subsequently for contempt.
In the view of the committee, there should be no special provision made in law to provide MPs or Parliament with remedies for phone hacking through the courts that are not available to other victims of hacking. The law must apply equally to all.”
On Thursday 31 March and Friday 1 April the Independent reported on a number of the police dinners with the News of the World during the police investigation. On Friday issue it reported that:
“The police chief who headed Scotland Yard’s inquiry into phone-hacking dined with the News of the World at the height of his criminal investigation into the newspaper.
The sensitively timed meeting between then Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman and the NOTW was left off lists of contacts between senior officers and the paper’s owner sent to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Its disclosure in a Freedom of Information request prompted claims that the force had an unduly “cosy relationship” with Rupert Murdoch’s print empire News International (NI).
Mr Hayman enjoyed three lunches and two dinners with the NOTW in the two years ending in 2007. One dinner was on 25 April 2006, four months after the Royal Family alerted the Yard to the loss of personal data about Princes William and Harry and four months before anti-terrorist police raided the offices of the NOTW’s royal editor Clive Goodman and its private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, in August 2006.”
On Friday 15 April 2011 there is a full day “case management” hearing before Mr Justice Vos to consider how ever increasing number of hacking cases should be taken forward.