The former News Corp. (NWSA) private detective at the center of the phone-hacking scandal lost a U.K. Supreme Court ruling over his bid to withhold evidence in civil lawsuits that might incriminate him in a criminal case.
Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for intercepting voice mail for the News of the World tabloid, can’t use his right against self-incrimination because the case involves intellectual property, such as commercial information that may have been left on mobile-phone messages he accessed, Britain’s top court ruled today in London.
The judgment upheld an appeals court ruling that Mulcaire must disclose who instructed him to intercept messages left for Nicola Phillips, who worked for celebrity publicist Max Clifford, and what information he obtained. Dozens of people have filed similar lawsuits and News Corp. has spent more than $258 million in legal fees and settlements.
The ruling will apply to “many other cases” where victims’ voice mails may have contained “commercially sensitive information,” Mark Lewis, Phillips’s lawyer, who also represents other victims, said outside court. Mulcaire has two or three weeks to supply the requested information, he said.
“I will consider with my lawyers what the wider implications of this judgment are if and when I am asked to answer such questions in other cases,” Mulcaire said in a statement handed out by his lawyer Sarah Webb after the hearing.
The judgment was issued about 30 minutes before the Metropolitan Police Service in London said it arrested three more people in a related probe into bribery by News Corp.’s U.K. titles, including its best-selling Sun daily tabloid.
News Corp. closed the News of the World in July 2011 to help contain public anger over the scandal after the Guardian newspaper reported a year ago today that the tabloid had hacked the messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. That story triggered public outrage that wasn’t expressed for News Corp.’s celebrity victims, such as British actor Jude Law.
Phillips also wants to know what information Mulcaire collected from her messages and to whom he gave it. The ruling today could lead to a settlement of the case, and most lawsuits are expected to be resolved before a trial, Lewis said today.
The judgment, while a win for victims, narrowed what type of information in voice-mail messages may be considered intellectual property and may apply to fewer such lawsuits, Mulcaire said in the statement.
Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, a reporter for the News of the World, pleaded guilty in 2006 and were jailed the next year for hacking voice mail for members of Prince Charles’s staff. News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, argued for years that the practice had been limited to the men, until evidence in civil lawsuits showed it was widespread and triggered a new police probe.
Former News International Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks, who was charged in May, and Andy Coulson, a former editor who later worked as press chief for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, have been arrested in the criminal probes. Both have denied the claims.
Mulcaire, who was arrested again in December and hasn’t been charged, successfully sued the company over claims it improperly stopped covering his legal fees after lawmakers questioned the payments.
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