The 'Catch 22' at the heart of NI's phone-hack fund

A leading barrister in the phone-hacking litigation has added his voice to growing criticism of News International‘s compensation scheme for victims of voicemail interception at the News of the World.

Yesterday we reported on claims by Steven Heffer, the chair of Lawyers for Media Standards who represents several phone-hacking clients, that the NI compensation fund set up in April was ‘all smoke and mirrors”.

Now top media barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC, lead counsel for claimants in the phone-hacking test case due to be heard next January, claims to have discovered a ‘fundamental difficulty with the proposed scheme which has not been commented on”.

‘Compensation can only be decided on the basis of documentary evidence as to the extent of hacking in an individual case,’said Tomlinson.

“This comes from the ‘Mulcaire archive’ which is in the hands of the police. The Operation Weeting officers will show the documents to ‘notified victims’ but will not provide them with copies.

‘The only way in which these can be obtained is by means of a court order – which is made after the issue of proceedings against News Group Newspapers Limited.

‘In other words, the only way in which the ‘compensation scheme’ can operate is by considering documents which are available only to those who commence litigation.”

Tomlinson believes it is this ‘Catch 22’that is preventing the scheme from moving forward.

He added: ‘If the scheme is to work, News Group will have to agree to pay the costs of issuing and obtaining disclosure – and any court order will have to provide that the documents can be used for the purposes of the scheme. ”

News Corporation had earlier claimed that since June, when former High Court judge Sir Charles Gray was appointed to oversee the scheme, discussions with ‘key key interested” had been ongoing, and that “precise details of the scheme’s practical implementation the particular focus of talks held this month”.

A spokesperson for the company said the discussions were nearing their conclusion and that it hoped to get the scheme up and running “as soon as possible”.

Responding to the statement, head of media at law firm Collyer Bristow, said: ‘The latest press statement by NI is pretty unimpressive, as it largely repeats what was said in the April and June announcements.

‘ There is no explanation for the long delay. I presume when the spokesperson talks of discussions with ‘key interested parties’ he or she must mean people from News International

‘ It seems clear that none of the relevant lawyers involved in the phone hacking cases have been consulted at all on matters relating to the scheme.”

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