Lawyers involved in legal action following allegations that tabloid journalists hacked celebrities' phones will pocket up to £600 an hour, a court heard today.
Details of fees being paid to lawyers representing people who claim that phones were hacked – and lawyers representing newspaper owners – emerged at a High Court hearing in London.
A High Court judge set limits on what barristers and solicitors involved could earn in an attempt to stop legal costs getting "out of hand".
Mr Justice Vos set rates for leading barristers at up to £600 an hour and said most junior barristers could earn no more than £330 an hour. He said solicitors could earn between £140 and £400 an hour.
The judge said he had set "relatively low rates". "I'm afraid they are not low in comparison to what most people make," Mr Justice Vos told the hearing. "But they are low in terms of what lawyers sometimes charge."
Dozens sued in the wake of allegations that journalists at the now defunct News of the World newspaper hacked phones.
Manchester United and England soccer star Wayne Rooney, Stoke City and England footballer Peter Crouch, ex-boxer Chris Eubank, barrister Cherie Blair – wife of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, actor James Nesbitt and singer James Blunt are among celebrities claiming damages from News of the World owner News Group Newspapers .
A trial – expected to last several weeks – is scheduled to take place at the High Court in London next February.
Many other damages claims have already been settled. Lawyers discussed budgets at a pre-trial hearing.
"The objective (is to) limit costs of this litigation, which obviously are going to be very expensive because of the number of individual claimants," said Mr Justice Vos. "This really is a wholly exceptional piece of litigation."
He said he wanted to ensure that legal costs were "proportionate", did not "get out of hand" and were not "disproportionate to the amount at stake".
The judge added: "That is why I have set relatively low rates."
Claimants' lawyers say more than 45 people are seeking damages in this phase of the litigation.
Mr Justice Vos was told today how evidence had emerged about use of iPhones by "senior executives" at News International.
Lawyers representing claimants said evidence suggested that the company iPhones were used "during the relevant period".
They asked for iPhones and related email accounts to be preserved.
The judge said who used the iPhones and what they were used for would be "open for discussion".
Lawyers would give no more detail about iPhone evidence outside court after the hearing.
Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman were given jail terms in 2007 after the Old Bailey heard they plotted to hack into royal aides' telephone messages.
New police inquiries into phone hacking have started since then, celebrities have launched damages claims, and the News of the World has closed.
Appeal court judge Lord Justice Leveson is chairing an inquiry into press ethics in the wake of revelations about hacking.
Actor Jude Law is one of dozens of people who have settled claims after suing News Group Newspapers for damages.
Not all settlement figures have been disclosed, but Law has accepted damages of £130,000, Labour MP Chris Bryant £30,000, Welsh rugby union star Gavin Henson £40,000, and Labour politician Lord Prescott £40,000.
Lawyers say more people could make claims as inquiries into hacking progress.
A lawyer representing News Group Newspapers told Mr Justice Vos today: "We are dealing with 500 claims, potentially."