Hackgate II: the Lawyers Fight Back

Lawyer’s involvement has developed as an important element in the Hackgate story. The Evening Standard reported in yesterday’s edition some in News International being angry at the advice received from their lawyers. The BBC’s Robert Peston is reporting via ‘a source’ that smoking gun emails included an allegation that:

“In one of the dynamite e-mails, Clive Goodman – the paper’s disgraced former royal editor – was requesting cash from the newspaper’s editor, Andy Coulson, to buy a confidential directory of the Royal Family’s landline telephone numbers, and all the phone numbers – including mobiles – of the household staff.”

The implication of the story appears to be that this may have been one of the emails reviewed for News International by external solicitors, Harbottle & Lewis. There are signs that the lawyers are beginning to fight back. Harbottle & Lewis, who’s (then) managing partner, Lawrence Abramson, now at Fladgate, advised on the cache of emails, indicated in the Standard story that the reporting of their involvement was inaccurate. Indeed, it is not absolutely clear to me that the email to which Peston refers was amongst those seen by Mr. Abramson when he provided his advice (see my previous blog). It is clear that he received only a proportion (about 300) of 2,500 emails when he confirmed:

“that we did not find anything in those emails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman’s illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the Editor, and Neil Wallis, the Deputy Editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the News Editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures.”

A key question then is whether the Goodman-Coulson email was amongst the 300 or so reviewed and whether the illegaility Peston’s source says it purports to reveal is indeed revealed by that email. It is is reported in the Guardian that:

Some of the emails were recovered last month by the company’s general manager, Will Lewis, from Harbottle & Lewis following a request from Scotland Yard. News International handed them to the Met last week.

The Met said yesterday those emails contain evidence of “alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers”.  [It is worth emphasising that there may be inaccuracies in the Guardian’s story, Dep Ass Commissioner Sue Akers has given an  indication in today’s evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that documents passed to the Guardian contain inaccuracies.]

Furthermore, the same Guardian story indicates James Chapman (inhouse lawyer at News International) may be threatening legal action against News International. In the same story, Lawrence Abramson, is reported by the Guardian as saying: “Professional duty of confidentiality prevents me from commenting on this.”  An interesting side show is the extent to which legal professional privilege will be used by News International as a shield against further revelations . Privilege is the client’s and for now it rather ties the hands of the solicitors’ firms involved. If News International wish to express their anger about lawyers advice they might also be asked to waive privilege in it. Indeed, if litigation ensues they may have been implied to have waived it.

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