The new managing judge in the phone hacking litigation, Mr Justice Mann, handed down an important judgment on Friday 12 July 2013. He allowed an application by the claimants for disclosure by the police in relation to the new “Operation Pinetree”.
The application was based on the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction under which the Court can require third parties to give pre-action disclosure of documents. Although it was not opposed by the police – who held the documents – it was opposed by News Group Newspapers (“NGN”) which argued that there was no jurisdiction to make the order because the police were not “facilitators” of the wrongdoing.
This argument was rejected by Judge who held that court did have jurisdiction to make such orders. He held that the real question was whether the engagement of a person was sufficient to stop them from being a “mere witness”. The police were under a duty to acquire information about the wrongdoing and informed victims of what had happened.
In the course of his judgment Mr Justice Mann noted that NGN had argued that the information could be obtained without such an order being made but that it disclaimed any intention to be obstructive of the claims. The judge said that NGN’s analysis led him “to take a jaundiced view” of this disclaimer
“What distinguishes the phone hacking cases from most claims is that the victims (claimants) are unlikely to know that they are victims until someone else (the MPS) tells them and then they cannot know the extent of the apparent wrong unless someone else (again, the MPS) tells them … It might be better for NGN for victims to be in ignorance for a longer rather than a short time, but it can hardly be better for the claimants”
The Judge added
“It would be unfortunate to require a claimant to litigate partially blind, and to have to face a challenge based on the settlement, without being able to decide whether the whole exercise is worthwhile in the first place.”
There are already seven cases brought by individuals who claim to be “Operation Pinetree” victims. However, the ruling opens the way for a large number of further victims to bring proceedings against NGN.
We will have a case comment when the full approved judgment is available.