The phone hacking scandal is moving into a higher gear, with a new Culture Media and Sport Select Committee hearing and the Leveson Inquiry evidence sessions only a few days away. There has also been another arrest, this time of a “Sun” journalist.
We should, however, begin by mentioning the September 2011 publication of the Government Response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s July 2011 report on “Unauthorised Tapping into or Hacking of Mobile Telephone Communications“.
Surprisingly, the Government rejects many of the substantive recommendations by the Committee including legislative reform (paras 40 and 41). the appointment of a single Commissioner (para 42) and notes that other issues will be dealt with by the Leveson Inquiry.
We should also mention the publication on 27 October 2011 of the Justice Select Committee Report into Referral fees and the theft of personal data published on 2 October and available on its website here. In relation to penalties on theft of personal data it concludes in the following terms:
“We share the Information Commissioner’s concern and dissatisfaction that no order has been brought before Parliament to implement section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which would have the effect of providing custodial sentences for breaches of section 55 of the Data Protection Act. Currently the only available penalty is a fine, which we feel is inadequate in cases where people have been endangered by the data disclosed, or where the intrusion or disclosure was particularly traumatic for the victim, or where there is no deterrent because the financial gain resulting from the crime far exceeds the possible penalty. We accept the Information Commissioner’s argument that the issue of custodial sentences for section 55 offences is not exclusively, or even primarily, an issue relating to the media and that the issue should be dealt with by Parliament without waiting for the outcome of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry (as the Government has indicated is its preferred approach). We urge the Government to exercise its power to provide for custodial sentences without delay”.
On Monday 30 October 2011 the Leveson Inquiry heard an application by the Metropolitan Police and the DPP to prevent any hacking evidence being aired in part 1 of the inquiry and/or being aired in public. His decision is awaited.
On Tuesday 1 November 2011 the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee published on its website numerous documents from Messrs Farrers, following the dramatic evidence of Julian Pike the week before. Newsgroup/News International had waived legal privilege in respect of the advice relating to the Gordon Taylor action. The new documents include numerous attendance notes and time records of Mr Pike and the internal NGN briefing memo. It also included the written opinion of Newsgroup leading counsel Michael Silverleaf QC. He summarised the impact of the infamous “for Neville” email in the following way:
“There is overwhelming evidence of the involvement in a number of senior NGN journalists in the illegal enquiries into ….. In addition there is substantial surrounding material about the extent of NGN’s journalists’ attempts to obtain access to information illegally in relation to other individuals. in the lights of these facts there is a powerful case that there is ( or was) a culture of illegal information access at NGN in order to produce stories for publication.”
On Wednesday 2 November 2011, the Lord Justice Leveson handed down a further ruling on core participants. He granted core participant status to Charlotte Church, Jackie Hames, Jane Winter, Anne Diamond, the National Union of Journalists and the Telegraph Media Group. The Surrey Police were refused core participant status. At the end of his ruling Lord Justice Leveson made some general remarks about the Role of Core Participants
“the core participants are not parties to litigation (either between themselves or with me): the Inquiry is inquisitorial in nature. Thus, where I do not consider that there is a potential for their interests to be affected, I will not consider it necessary to canvass their views and I am not going to allow the Inquiry to be driven down a road that requires me to generate decision after decision, each one of which may then lead to further litigation in the form of judicial review. I will be open and transparent in all that I do and I must, of course, be fair and comply with the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Inquiries Rules 2006″.
There was a report in the “Guardian”
On Thursday 3 November 2011 the relaunch of compensation scheme was announced on the News International website. It is formal arbitration scheme. It was covered an Inforrm post by Steven Heffer and reported in the Guardian the New York Times.
On Friday the arrest was announced of Sun journalist, Jamie Pyatt. The Sky News website reported:
“Jamie Pyatt, 48, has worked for the paper for more than two decades and is the first non-News Of The World (“NOTW”) journalist to be arrested as part of the wider phone hacking and police payment investigations.
As a district journalist for the tabloid based in the Thames Valley, he covered the murder of teenager Milly Dowler, whose own phone was hacked by NOTW“.
Also on Friday, the Administrative Court (Moses LJ and Singh J) refuse permission to apply for judicial review of a decision of the Leveson Inquiry to refuse “core participant” status to Elaine Decoulos, who has in the past been involved in libel litigation. The decision of the Inquiry to refuse her Core Participant Status can be found on its website. The Inquiry submitted Supplementary Summary Grounds resisting her application.
On Saturday the Guardian reported on the details of Rebekah Brooks’ £1.7 million compensation package agreed a few days before she was arrested. It reports:
Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as chief executive of News International at the height of the phone-hacking scandal, received £1.7m in cash, the use of a London office and a chauffeur-driven limousine as part of her severance package from the newspaper group.
Next Thursday 10 November 2011, James Murdoch will give further evidence before the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee.
And Monday 14 November 2011, the Leveson Inquiry Part 1 starts with opening statements and the numerous witnesses giving evidence.