MIRROR Group Newspapers (MGN) is turning to the Court of Appeal after failing to use free speech laws to stem a tide of fresh phone hacking claims, Byline Investigations can report.
The publishing giant has already been refused permission once to appeal a High Court decision not to limit the disclosure it gives potential victims of its illegal news-gathering between 1998 and 2009.
In a ruling, Managing Judge Mr Justice Mann said: “I am quite satisfied that the balance lies in favour of leaving the early disclosure regime where it is.”
But MGN is again seeking a review – on grounds the court misinterpreted the Contempt of Court and Human Rights Acts, which enshrine freedom of expression and allow journalists to protect source identities.
The ruling obliges MGN to continue revealing potential evidence of illegal telephone taps and invoices from private investigators it commissioned to steal personal information, not only for each new hacking claimant but also four nominated friends and associates.
To invoke the qualifications which (MGN) seeks to invoke would be to risk materially prejudicing a large number of claimants who have absolutely no association to the source protection issues ~ Justice Mann
The reason, is that ‘newsworthy’ information about MGN’s hacking targets was likely to have been found in the messages they left on the voicemails of other people, as well as the messages they themselves received.
The High Court has already accepted that a key part of many successful phone hacking cases has been the ability of victims to see who else in their circle MGN’s reporters targeted for illegal voicemail interceptions.
But the owner of The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror, and The People, says that in one so-far unnamed case it is defending, among hundreds of others, the disclosure of call data could reveal a named associate to also be a source of information about the claimant.
The company did not give any details of the case, nor indicated whether its source qualified for legal protections, for example by saying they were acting in the public interest, and not simply divulging someone else’s private information for other less noble reasons.
In his ruling – which MGN must now wait to learn whether it can take to the Court of Appeal – Justice Mann said the requirements of justice should be balanced against those of free expression.
He said: “To invoke the qualifications which (MGN) seeks to invoke would be to risk materially prejudicing a large number of claimants who have absolutely no association to the source protection issues and there would be a serious and disproportionate imbalance against them were they now to be deprived of the sort of early call information which has proved so important in the proper conduct of this litigation.
“Balancing their rights against the proper interests which are invoked in considering journalistic source protection, and the other matters referred to above, I consider that the interests of justice clearly lie in retaining the current necessary, and properly operated, early disclosure regime. I therefore refuse the defendant’s application.”
It is not the first time MGN has sought to argue that source protection issues should preclude it from handing out disclosure and that associates should give written permission for disclosure to be revealed. The argument was rejected during phone hacking test cases against MGN in 2015.
Lawyers acting for the claimants pointed out that in many cases it was not possible to get permission from people with whom they may not have been in contact for a number of years.
In some previously settled cases it has been found that relationships between claimants and their associates had broken down irreparably as a direct result of loss of trust caused by MGN’s hacking of their respective voicemails and publishing of the eavesdropped information.
Last night a source with knowledge of the case told Byline Investigations: “The source MGN is trying to protect was arguably misusing the private information of the subject of the story. MGN is not claiming there is a public interest in the story.
“So they are seeking a right to publish gossip they want to print from a source that is breaching confidence without public interest.”