Mail publisher fails to deliver 'knockout blow' to Harry High Court claim | Shropshire StarIn a comprehensive judgment handed down today in the case of Various Claimants v Associated Newspapers Limited [2023] EWHC 2789 (KB), Mr Justice Nicklin dismissed the application by the Defendant, the publisher of the Daily Mail,  for summary judgment against the seven claimants on limitation grounds.  The Judge upheld the defendant’s objections to the Claimants’ reliance on certain documents from the Leveson Inquiry and orders withholding the names of journalists.

The claim was issued on 6 October 2022 by Baroness Lawrence, Elizabeth Hurley,  Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Sir Simon Hughes Prince Harry and Sadie Frost Law.  The Claimants alleged that the Defendant had, in the past, obtained their private and/or confidential information using techniques such as interception of voicemail messages, listening into live telephone calls, obtaining of information by deception, and the use of private investigators..  The claimed that this information was used to publish articles in the Defendant’s newspapers and online. Further details of the Claimants claims are set out in [5]-[7].

The Defendant applied to strike out  the Claimants’ claims on the grounds that the wrongdoing alleged took place over 6 years before their claim was issued and there is a defence of limitation.  In response, the Claimants relied on sectoin 32 of the Limitation Act 1980, alleging that fact(s) relevant to the claims had been deliberately concealed.  The Defendant also challenged those parts of the claim which had relied upon certain documents from the Leveson Inquiry (“the Ledgers”).  It was said that these were subject to continuing restrictions on their use as a result of restriction orders made during the Inquiry.  These applications were heard on 27 to 30 March 2023.

In a 335 paragraph judgment, the Judge dismissed the Limitation Application, on the grounds that the Claimants had a real prospect of succeeding with reliance on s.32 Limitation Act 1980 ([187]-[190]).  He held that the appropriate stage for the Court to determine the facts necessary to resolve any limitation defence, including the issues arising under s.32, would be at a trial, after consideration of all the relevant evidence.   However, the Judge upheld the Defendant’s objections to reliance upon the Ledgers to plead sections of the Claimants’ Particulars of Claim.

The Judge continued a temporary order granting anonymity to journalists named in the Particulars of Claim because it would be unfair for them to be identified at an early stage, before they had the opportunity to respond to the allegations against them.  He indicated that these restrictions were likely to be lifted once a Defence had been servedl

As a result of the Judgment the claim will continue to trial, noting that the position regarding the use of the Ledgers needed to be regularised.  He fixed a hearing for 21 November 2023 to hear submissions on the orders which should be made consequent on the Judgment.

The Claimants issued a press statement in the following terms

“We are delighted with today’s decision which allows our claims over serious criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy by the Mail titles to proceed to trial.

The High Court has dismissed “without difficulty” the attempt by Associated Newspapers (publisher of The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the Mail Online) to throw these cases out. Indeed, the Judge found that each of our claims had  a real prospect of showing there was concealment of unlawful acts by the Mail titles and that this could not have been discovered until recently. Our claims can now proceed to trial.

As we have maintained since the outset, we bring our claims over the deplorable and illegal activities which took place over many years, including private investigators being hired to place secretly listening devices inside our cars and homes, the tapping of our phone calls, corrupt payments to police for inside information, and the illegal accessing of our medical information from hospitals and financial information from banks. We intend to uncover the truth at trial and hold those responsible at Associated Newspapers fully accountable.

The Judge also found ledgers showing secret payments by The Mail and The Mail on Sunday to private investigators which had been provided to our lawyers could not be used at this stage without the consent of the newspapers or the Government. This only delays the inevitable since they will have to be produced in the course of the claim by Associated in any event. However, if The Mail and The Mail on Sunday have nothing to hide, and they genuinely believe our allegations are unfounded, as they appear to claim, they should provide us with the ledgers voluntarily now, and let the claims proceed to trial as quickly as possible.

The judgment has been widely reported in the media – including by the BBC, The Guardian, Sky News, the Press Gazette and Rolling Stone.

The MailOnline report of the case is, curiously, headed “Major setback for Prince Harry and Sir Elton John’s privacy case against Associated Newspapers as judge rules they cannot use confidential information supplied to Leveson Inquiry” – focusing entirely on the Judge’s ruling on the Ledgers and not mentioning the Mail’s defeat on the limitation argument.

The Hacked Off website has a piece entitled “As the Mail fails in its bid to throw out hacking claims, we look back at every time the newspaper has denied it”