20th June 2024

Litigation Update: Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation

By Natalie Powers

Application for a Trial of Preliminary Issues

Hamlins acts as the Lead Solicitor in the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation (“MTVIL”), overseeing the current group of phone-hacking and unlawful information gathering claims against News Group Newspapers (“NGN”), publishers of The Sun and now-defunct News of the World. A trial is currently listed for January 2025.

In February 2024, NGN made an application for a trial of preliminary issues (“TPI”), to seek early determination on the issue of limitation. Limitation provides a Defendant with a complete defence to a claim, if it can be shown that, for the purposes of section 32(1) of the Limitation Act 1980, a Claimant knew or could with reasonable diligence have uncovered that they had a ‘worthwhile claim’ more than 6 years before issuing proceedings. A ‘worthwhile claim’ requires a Claimant to have sufficient confidence to justify embarking on the first steps towards issuing proceedings, including submitting a claim to NGN, taking advice and/or collecting evidence.

NGN argued that a TPI in relation to a sample group of claims, if listed, should take place in January 2025, in place of the trial already fixed. The Claimants opposed NGN’s application on the basis that, amongst other things, a TPI would likely add to costs and court time (rather than save it) and that it would be highly disruptive and prejudicial to those Claimants who have been expecting to proceed to full trial.

Following a one-day hearing, a significant judgment was handed down in April. The Managing Judge found in the Claimants’ favour and NGN’s application was rejected. In determining whether a TPI should be ordered, the Court considered the factors in Steele v Steele, including whether determination of the preliminary issue would dispose of the case (or at least one aspect of the case); whether an order would increase costs or delay the trial; and whether it was just in the circumstances to order a TPI.

The Court held there were far too few advantages of ordering a TPI at this stage of the litigation, and that the issue of limitation will be determined at the trial in January 2025 in any event. NGN’s application was dismissed, and it has been ordered to pay the Claimants’ costs of the application.

Application to amend the Generic Particulars of Concealment and Destruction

In January 2024, the Claimants in the MTVIL made an application to re-re amend the Generic Particulars of Concealment and Destruction (the “GENPOC”), which alleges concealment of wrongdoing and destruction of evidence by NGN. The allegations are common to all individual claims in the MTVIL, and each Claimant adopts the GENPOC as part of their case.

The amendments sought by the Claimants included allegations of steps taken by NGN at the Leveson Inquiry to lie, conceal and destroy evidence of unlawful practices, and the knowledge of senior executives at NGN of the same. Further, the Claimants sought the addition of a number of Private Investigators into the generic case, who allegedly acted illegally or unlawfully on behalf of journalists, editors or executives of NGN. The Claimants’ application was heard by the Court during a one-day hearing in March 2024.

By its judgment handed down on 21 May 2024, the Court granted the Claimants permission to amend their case in relation to numerous significant issues vigorously opposed by NGN. This includes in respect of the lies told by NGN’s senior executives to the Leveson Inquiry and the CMS Select Committee, and the Claimants’ extensive case on NGN’s deliberate concealment and destruction of evidence, with the knowledge of its most senior executives including Rupert Murdoch’s own “trusted lieutenants”, such as James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton. The Managing Judge found it was therefore unnecessary for further amendments to add Rupert Murdoch’s name to the pleadings.

The expanded case against NGN will now be determined at trial in January 2025.

Callum Galbraith and Ellen Gallagher, assisted by Natalie Powers and Alice Young, instructed David Sherborne, Kate Wilson and Ben Hamer (5RB) in relation to the above applications.

Litigation Update: Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation

Have a question? Contact Natalie

Have a question? Contact Natalie

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