News Corp. Hacking Victim’s Family Protest Change to U.K. Legal Fee System
The family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose mobile phone was hacked by News Corp. (NWSA)’s News of the World, asked Britain’s leaders to stop changes to the country’s “no win, no fee” litigation system.
It would be “unjust and unfair” to change the current payment method, which the Dowlers used to challenge News Corp.’s U.K. unit, the family said in an open letter to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Sound Off For Justice, which opposes the changes, says the new fee system will be difficult to use for middle-income people.
Under the current system, defendants who lose a case must pay the expenses incurred by the plaintiffs lawyers who sued them. The new system will be more like that of the U.S., where the plaintiff who wins a lawsuit pays their own legal fees.
News Corp. agreed to pay 3 million pounds ($4.6 million) to the Dowlers and a charity to settle claims that the News of the World hacked their daughter’s voice-mail messages when she was missing in 2002, a person with knowledge of the matter said this week. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch was personally involved in the negotiations, the person said.
“What we wanted to make clear to you is that we could not have done this without a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement,” Sally, Bob and Gemma Dowler said in the letter dated Sept. 19. “We were lucky we fell under that system. We understand that the new law will affect thousands of people who want to sue News International and other newspapers.”
Reports in July that Dowler’s messages had been intercepted triggered a public outcry that forced New York-based News Corp. to close the 168-year-old tabloid and drop its 7.8 billion-pound bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc. (BSY)
U.K. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said in June that the current system is encouraging a “compensation culture” and contributing to a rise in car insurance premiums. With the proposed changes, people will be less inclined to increase their claims, he said.
Under the new system, “success fees” will be paid out of damages awarded to claimants -- with a cap of 25 percent -- rather than by defendants who are currently liable for as much as 100 percent of the winning lawyer’s base costs on top of their usual fee, the Ministry of Justice said in March.
“We welcome and are humbled by the intervention of the Dowler family in this debate,” Des Hudson, who heads the London-based Law Society, said in Sound Off’s statement. “They have succeeded in making it clear to the prime minister that it is ordinary families with terrible life challenges that will be impacted the most.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com
Bloomberg moderates all comments. Comments that are abusive or off-topic will not be posted to the site. Excessively long comments may be moderated as well. Bloomberg cannot facilitate requests to remove comments or explain individual moderation decisions.