Prince Harry, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Sir Elton John and others have suffered a major setback as a High Court judge ruled parts of their privacy case against Associated Newspapers are inadmissible.
Mr Justice Nicklin said it would be an ‘abuse of process’ and ‘bring the administration of justice into disrepute’ if their case was allowed to continue in its current form.
The judge said the seven claimants who all allege hacking by Associated Newspapers – the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail – could take the rest of their cases to trial, rejecting an application by the newspaper group to have them thrown out.
But he ruled there was ‘significant public interest’ in preventing the claimants from deploying confidential documents in breach of an order made by the Leveson Inquiry 12 years ago.
Prince Harry arrives at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on March 28
Associated Newspapers, which has always strenuously denied the ‘preposterous’ allegations, said in a statement: ‘We welcome Mr Justice Nicklin’s decision that the information we and other newspapers supplied to the Leveson Inquiry under strict grounds of confidentiality remains subject to the Restriction Order imposed by Lord Justice Leveson.
‘In a significant victory for justice and the Mail, the Judge ruled that the information should not have been used by the Claimants and must be struck out from the case. As Mr Justice Nicklin says in his judgment, this was an ‘abuse of process’ and if used, ‘it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute’.
‘As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone-hacking, landline-tapping, burglary and sticky-window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course.
Baroness Doreen Lawrence outside London’s Royal Courts Of Justice on March 29
‘We are grateful to the judge for the careful consideration he has given to our applications.’
The Duke of Sussex and the six others – Sir Elton John, his husband David Furnish, Elizabeth Hurley, Sadie Frost, Sir Simon Hughes and Baroness Doreen Lawrence – launched their hacking case in October last year.
They cited ‘confessions’ by a private investigator, Gavin Burrows, who had ‘admitted’ hacking phones, tapping landlines and bugging cars. Mr Burrows later flatly rebutted claims he had confessed to hacking for Associated Newspapers in a statement to the court describing them as false, prompting the judge to warn Harry and the others they ‘may have to adjust their expectations’.
The case has yet to come to trial and in March this year, Associated made a series of applications to the judge. One of these was to object to the claimants using copies of financial ledgers from the publisher of the Mail titles which were given to the 2011/12 Leveson Inquiry into Press standards. Under the protocol of the Leveson Inquiry, the documents were treated as confidential and the chairman, Lord Justice Leveson, made an order that no documents such as these provided to the inquiry ‘shall be published or disclosed’.
Sir Elton John leaves the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on March 27
In his ruling, Mr Justice Nicklin upheld the newspaper’s objection. He said: ‘In my judgment…the Court must recognise, and give effect to, the significant public interest in ensuring that a restriction order made under the Inquiries Act 2005 [such as the one by Leveson] is observed and not breached.’
He added it would be ‘an abuse of process and would justify the striking out of the relevant parts of a statement of case’ if the material was allowed, and said: ‘Looked at another way, I am satisfied that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute…if the Court were to permit the use, in civil litigation, of material in breach of a restriction order that remains in force.’
The case continues and a further preliminary hearing is scheduled for November 21.