The judgment in the Mirror Newspapers Hacking Litigation was handed down today in Court 15 at the Rolls Building by Mr Justice Mann. He awarded a total of £1.2 million in damages to the eight test claimants.
The judgment contains a detailed analysis of the award of damages for a huge number of invasions of privacy. It also contains a long and detailed analysis of the facts, evidence and inferences that can be drawn. It runs to some 360 pages of detailed analysis.
The guidance the Judge gives is based on the evidence he heard at the four week trial in March 2015, as well as the various admissions made by MGN Ltd in the course of the first wave of claims brought by victims of phone hacking against them.
Although he notes that the extent of the wrongdoing “has been concealed by acts of the Defendant”, the Judge has made some important findings on the extent of the unlawful activities at all three MGN newspapers and he has found that “the practice of phone hacking was indeed widespread, institutionalised and long standing”.
The Judge has also provided detailed guidance to future claimants on damages and has found that in assessing privacy damages, the Court is not just confined to considering distress but also the damage or affront to dignity or standing. The Judge awarded substantial damages to the claimants, from £72,500 for Lauren Alcorn to £260,250 for Sadie Frost. The high awards in these cases, greater than previous cases, reflect the serious and repeated intrusions into the claimants’ privacy and the impact that it had on their lives.
Many of the claimants involved in this trial were understandably reluctant to come to Court to relive difficult periods in their lives and to speak of their “horror, distaste and distress at the discovery that Mirror group journalists had been listening, on a regular and frequent basis, to all sorts of aspects of their private lives.” It is therefore a great relief to them that the Judge has recognised the grave impact the unlawful activity of MGN had on their lives and “that the emotions they felt were genuine, not exaggerated and entirely justified.”
For some of the claimants in particular, this victory has been a long time coming. For many years, MGN denied any phone hacking at its titles and even sought to strike out some of the earlier claims. The claimants also had a difficult time finding out what had happened as all disclosure applications were hard fought. In addition to this, MGN only apologised to the claimants a few weeks before trial, and even the Judge has accepted that these “apologies were made at least partly as a tactical matter with an eye to the forthcoming trial”. It has therefore been a long and drawn out battle to get to this point and the claimants are pleased to be able to finally close this difficult chapter in their lives.
There are numerous other claims pressing forward in the second wave of the litigation and a Case Management Conference for new cases is being arranged as soon as possible. Given the twists and turns the first wave of the litigation took, it will be interesting to see what the shape of the next wave will be once the dust has settled from this judgment.
James Heath of Atkins Thomson is Lead Solicitor for the Claimants in this case.
Atkins Thomson has been directed by the court to make certain orders, documents and other information public. They can be found here.
Elsewhere (on the BBC and Roy Greenslade in the Guardian for example) much has been made of the considerable increase in these awards, as compared to earlier cases such as Max Mosley and Naomi Campbell. But we are not comparing like with like. The MGN employees were involved in criminal activities, whereas, say, in the case of Naomi Campbell, the actual taking of the photographs was perfectly legal, and it was only that the newspaper concerned chose to write up the story along with the photographs, which landed them on the wrong side of a civil suit.
In the case of the current claimants against MGN, arguably they have fared better because there have been few successful criminal prosecutions of the journalists and private investigators involved in the widespread hacking. In this way, the courts have been able to reflect the public’s disapprobation for the whole hacking saga in a manner which benefits the victims.
To that extent I don’t see these awards as substantially altering the law on privacy, in the way perhaps that we saw in Weller v Associated Newspapers last year.