“I am extremely unattracted to the idea of putting back the determination of these civil cases pending criminal proceedings which have not yet even resulted in charges,” he told lawyers and reporters at the court – some sitting on the floor because the courtroom was so full.
Rejecting the argument of News Group newspapers that there were no longer any issues on “liability” he suggested that there should be “test cases”. He said that four test civil cases at a well-advanced stage should be taken forward: indicating a preference for those being brought by the actress Sienna Miller; her step-mother, Kelly Hoppen; former Sky News commentator Andy Gray; and the sports agent Sky Andrew.
The selection is to be discussed by the claimants’ lawyers, however, ahead of the next case management conference set for 20 May, 2011.
Mr Justice Vos said he was most interested in finding out what happened, the extent of the interception activity, and what damages should be awarded. He was keen to find the most time efficient way of doing this, with minimal cost: “Otherwise we will be going on forever. Some people may want to, but I don’t“.
The court had got to try a specific case and “can’t just try it in the ether“. There should be a guide as to what damages should be given in specific circumstances.
For this reason, the cases selected would cover a range of issues. A trial – which would also cover generic issues – should be held at the end of 2011, or the beginning of next year.
Metropolitan Police officers were currently sifting through 9,200 pages of former private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, the court was told by the force’s counsel Jason Beer QC.
Mr Beer explained that 91 potential victims, whose pin numbers were documented in the files, had been previously revealed in a Freedom of Information request, but that the number of direct dial numbers was likely to be substantially higher. The police had been “flooded with enquiries” from people who suspected they had been victims, he said.
Justice Vos explained why it was important to establish the type of damage inflicted in different types of cases. As a Group Litigation Order, damages could not be handled too generically, as they might be in a case involving victims of asbestos inhalation, for example.
Future court hearings would be open and he was “resolute” in his decision to hold proceedings in public, he said. Skeleton arguments and the bundles would be closed to inspection, however, to protect claimants’ confidentiality.
As previously reported on Inforrm, three News of the World journalists have been arrested in 2011 – Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup – in connection with the police’s ongoing investigation into the interception of voicemail messages.
Last week News International issued a public apology to victims, repeated in court today, and announced it would be setting aside £20 million as a compensation fund. Hugh Tomlinson QC told the Court that actress Sienna Miller had been offered £100,000 but said she has neither accepted or declined the offer. Her former partner Jude Law is also expected to bring a claim he told the court.
Also present in court were lawyers representing Glenn Mulcaire, convicted for the interception of voicemail messages in 2007 and former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson. Michael Silverleaf QC represented News Group Newspapers (NGN). Jeremy Reed represented eleven of the claimants. The others were represented by Hugh Tomlinson QC, David Sherborne and Sara Mansoori.
More background about the phone hacking scandal here.
The cases on the interim hearings list
Jowell v NGN & Mulcaire
Sky Andrew v NGN & Mulcaire
Philips v NGN & Mulcaire
Gray v NGN & Mulcaire
Galloway v NGN & Mulcaire
Miller v NGN & Mulcaire
Coogan v NGN & Mulcaire
McGuire v NGN & Mulcaire
Gascoigne v NGN & Mulcaire
Davis v NGN & Mulcaire
Hoppen v Evans & News International & Metropolitan Police
Shear v NGN & Mulcaire
Field v NGN & Mulcaire
Fallon v NGN & Mulcaire
Hoppen v NGN & Mulcaire