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Phone Hacking Judgment Sets New Precedent For Damages

MGN To Appeal Record Award Which Could Open The Door To New Claims


David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

The High Court has awarded damages totalling nearly £1.25 million to eight victims of for invasion of their privacy by the newspapers The Daily Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The People.  Celebrities such as Paul Gascoigne, Shane Richie and Alan Yentob will each substantial sums in compensation for the hacking.
The damages awards are as follows:
Sadie Frost £260,250
Robert Ashworth £201,250
Paul Gascoigne £188,250
Lucy Taggart £157,250
Shobna Gulati £117,500
Shane Richie £155,000
Alan Yentob £85,000
Lauren Alcorn  £78,500
Mr Justice Mann held that damages for infringement of privacy rights should compensate not merely for the distress caused by the newspapers’ actions, but also for any loss of privacy or autonomy arising out of the infringement.  This might include a sum to cover any damage to the dignity or the standing of the claimants, and should reflect the fact that journalists had intruded on the claimants’ privacy rights on a daily basis.
The judge found that the claimants’ privacy had been ‘set at nought’ by the newspaper, and that all, or most, of the claimants had had all of their voicemails, and some of their confidants’ voicemails, listened to twice or more per day for several years.  It is thought that many more individuals may be victims of phone hacking and potentially have a claim.
MGN Limited was refused permission to appeal by the High Court, but has already said it will seek permission directly from the Court of Appeal to appeal the damages award.  This is partly because the High Court decision related to eight “Representative Claimants”, with the amounts awarded providing guidance for other similar claims against MGN.  The grounds of appeal are: (1) the sums awarded are disproportionate to the harm suffered when compared with the accepted scale of damages for personal injury; (2) the size of the awards is disproportionate by reference to the European Court of Human rights for breaches of privacy; (3) there has been double-counting in the award of damages; and (4) the Judge was wrong to not accept that damages for breach of privacy are compensation for injured feelings and are not intended to compensate wrongdoing.

Expert Opinion
“This damages award is a significant departure from previous awards for infringements of privacy rights. This is a relatively new cause of action, having been brought into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998, and previously damages awards have been comparatively low; Max Mosley received £60,000 for revelations about his private life in the News of the World, and Naomi Campbell was only awarded £3,500 when the Daily Mirror published pictures of her leaving a drug rehabilitation centre.

"The point of difference here lies in the fact the invasions of privacy were so serious, repeated and prolonged. Whilst the awards may seem high when compared to the scale of damages awarded for pain and suffering in personal injury cases, the judge was keen to stress that an analogy with personal injury only works on a ‘wrong by wrong’ basis, and here each discrete wrong would have to be compensated. In Sadie Frost’s case there had been 31 published articles; in relation to one article she received £25,000 compensation where it was suggested that Jude Law’s friendship with Nicole Kidman had led to her depression and self-harm. The Judge said this was a ‘serious health-related privacy infringement’. In addition £40,000 was awarded for the hacking itself, £30,00 awarded for distress and £10,000 for the acts of private investigators. The court decided that each of these should attract its own damages and this resulted in the level of compensation awarded.

"This ruling is unlikely to be the end of the story; due to the amounts of money and public interest at stake MGN are likely to throw everything at an appeal, whereas on the other side it is thought that there may be hundreds of further claimants who have had their phones hacked. The current focus of activity is on cases before 2007, but evidence is thought to be emerging to suggest similar techniques have been used by journalists more recently and people are being encouraged to come forward if they believe they may have been targeted.”

Georgie Collins, Partner

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