Former Times lawyer to appeal suspension after paper misled High Court about computer hacking

Former head lawyer at The Times Alastair Brett is to appeal against his £30,000 fine and six-month suspension for causing the High Court to be misled in the Nightjack case.

He is set to argue that the advice he gave to journalist Patrick Foster was subject to legal privilege so did not gave to be disclosed.

Brett was suspended by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal in December last year.

In June 2009 The Times successfully overturned a privacy injunction enabling it to name anonymous police blogger Nightjack. It emerged during the Leveson Inquiry that The Times withheld from the High Court that it had found out Nightjack’s identity by illegally hacking his email.

Brett said that journalist Patrick Foster, the reporter who worked on the Nightjack story, was his client when he sought advice about whether he might have a public interest defence after gaining unauthorised access to the NightJack email account it.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority argues that Foster was not his client and that therefore the discussion which they had was not covered by legal professional privilege and that Brett allowed a misleading witness statement to be submitted to the court."

Brett said that if the finding by the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal that his conversations with Foster were not covered by legal professional privilege was allowed to stand it would "drive a coach and four" through the current practice among in-house lawyers in all the national newspapers and broadcasters.

In October 2012, The Times agreed to pay Nightjack author Richard Horton £42,500 in damages and issued a public apology over the Nightjack litigation and the hacking of his emails.

Brett's appeal is due to be heard at the Administrative Court on 23 July.

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