Heavy fines stop papers misbehaving, says lawyer

The threat of having to pay out high damages and costs has a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech, the media is often heard complaining – but some lawyers argue it is the only effective deterrent keeping the press from running wild.

The News of the World has set up a £20m fund to dip into whenever it needs to compensate victims of phone hacking, with Sienna Miller already accepting £100,000.

Dominic Crossley, a partner at the London-based lawyers Collyer Bristow, says that “there is no one-size-fits-all solution”. Writing in Legal Week, he claims £20m might not be enough because the fund “exists in the continued ignorance of how many complainants are to share in it”.

Some would question whether £20m is enough when News International, NoW‘s publisher, makes a yearly turnover of around £33bn.

Crossley says: “It is arguable that if ever there was a need for the civil court to provide a deterrent it is here. Whilst arrests and potential prison sentences must be a sobering prospect for some of the News of the World’s star journalists, it appears that the fate of [Clive] Goodman and [Glenn] Mulcaire was insufficient deterrent given the temptation to attempt to peek into Kelly Hoppen’s messages [for instance] in 2009 as alleged in her claim.

“Journalists have been and will remain under huge pressure from executives to break stories and it will require a cultural change, inspired by heavy financial consequences in every case, to prevent this technique from being used in the future by a tabloid industry that remains obsessed with celebrities’ private lives.

“As Lord Diplock said in Broome v Cassell: ‘It is only if there is a prospect that the damages may exceed the defendant’s gain that the social purpose of this category is achieved – to teach a wrongdoer that tort does not pay.'”

Crossley reveals that “a number of the current phone-hacking claimants have included exemplary damages in their claims against News Group,” but admits that Wapping’s “settlement strategy” may mean that none of the cases reach court.

(Source: MediaGuardian)




“Before we all sink into a slough of digital dystopian despair, it might be worth considering this: is this a sign of the strength, not weakness, of revelatory journalism in the digital age?”

Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS at the London School of Economics, reacts to news that the UK government forced the Guardian into destroying hard drives that contained information leaked by Edward Snowden.

(Source: POLIS)


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