Phone-hacking: 'Sorry' not enough to halt legal tussles

News International has not heard the last of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal despite its mea culpa over the paper's behaviour, a media lawyer has told The Drum.

The publisher attempted to draw a line under the saga on Friday by issuing an apology and offering compensation to a number of household names who claimed their phones had been hacked by the tabloid.

But media law specialist Steve Kuncewicz believes News International would have done all it could to avoid making the dramatic admission.

He said: "In an ideal world, News International would have done a very quick and quiet deal with the Phone Hacking Claimants under terms that excluded any kind of admission of liability, but the fact that the case has got to disclosure stage meant that they had already fought it for some time - they'll have had to put in a defence and will recently have exchanged evidence with the claimants, meaning that they'll now be able to make a judgment on how strong the cases against them really are.

"This kind of 'mea culpa' statement is a very rare thing - the civil claims will be based on a combination of invasion of privacy, confidential information and data protection law and can be settled by agreement or dropped at any time."

Kuncewicz expects the compensation bill to be high and said that even the promise of payouts will not guarantee the end of the legal wranglings.

"Max Mosley only recovered around £60,000 for the invasion of his privacy a few years ago, so the chances are that it had become very clear that the defences, which may have included a public interest argument, weren't worth running to trial. If the case had ever come before a Judge, then the eventual and very public findings may have been far more costly to News International, so doing a deal is very tactically astute.

"What's worth remembering is that the prosecution case for criminal offences under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers and Data Protection Act against those involved in the hacking will still continue, and that not all of the claims against the News Of The World have been settled, so the chances are that we've not seen the last of this story.

"Examples may still be set and against the backdrop of a Defamation bill which tried hard to thaw the "chilling effect' which libel cases may have had on reporters over the last few years; this kind of institutional and systematic practice won't be tolerated any longer."

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