Mark Lewis, the British lawyer who was instrumental in putting News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal in the public eye, asked a judge for a jury trial of his related defamation lawsuit against London police.
Judge Michael Tugendhat, who will oversee a five-day trial in London in July, said he would rule later on Lewis’s request and ordered the media not to report what was said at a hearing on the matter today. The Metropolitan Police Service is opposed to a jury and wants a judge to issue a verdict.
The case relates to Lewis’s testimony to lawmakers probing phone-hacking in 2009, in which he claimed a detective had told him privately that phone hacking by News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid was far more widespread than police had revealed at the time. Lewis, who has represented celebrity victims of phone hacking, sued over claims the police wrongfully implied he was a liar by contradicting his testimony.
Lewis has said the case underscores the extent to which police sought to portray the hacking scandal as being contained even though they had evidence showing otherwise. While the police opened a new investigation into phone hacking in January 2011, probes in 2006 and 2009 failed to reveal the extent of the illegal practice.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch shuttered the News of the World in July, after revelations that the scandal was more widespread than previously known. Police, who have arrested about 50 people in three parallel probes, said in April there were 1,174 “likely” victims, and about 4,800 potential victims.
The Met in March 2011 lost a bid to dismiss the case. At the hearing last year, Lewis recounted a conversation outside a London courtroom in 2007 or 2008, in which a police detective said as many as 6,000 phones may have been hacked. John Yates, the police commissioner at the time, said at the same committee hearing that far fewer people may have had their phones hacked and not been made aware by authorities.
Yates and former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson both resigned last year under pressure related to the failed phone-hacking probes. A media-ethics inquiry triggered by the hacking scandal is also probing the relationship between the press and police.