Andy Coulson Wins Appeal Over Legal Fees
By Snigdha Nag, employment law expert at The City Law School, City University London
Today, in an embarrassing loss to News Group Newspapers, Andy Coulson, the former Editor of the News of the World, has successfully appealed the High Court’s decision that Newsgroup Newspapers is not liable for his legal fees in phone hacking actions.
Coulson succeeding on appeal is quite extraordinary. It isn’t possible to appeal just because you don’t like the decision. Coulson has succeeded in showing that the original decision is wrong in law. And this is only going to embarrass a news organisation keen that everyone forgets about the scandals surrounding the now defunct News of the World.
After the continuing revelations in the phone hacking scandal came out, Andy Coulson’s employment with NotW had to be terminated quickly in order for parent company NGN Ltd to avoid serious adverse publicity. Coulson had been employed 4 years and had rights to claim unfair dismissal. NGN offered certain terms to Coulson in order to get him to promise not to take any action against them about his employment rights. So a compromise agreement was signed. Its others terms can only be speculated upon, but the term in question here is that they would pay any legal costs Coulson might incur in ‘having to defend in, or appear in, any administrative, regulatory, judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings as a result of his having been the Editor of NotW’. This is a case of draft in haste, repent at leisure.
When criminal investigations started, NGN realised they had a PR nightmare on their hands if they were seen to be bank rolling Coulson’s defence. So they pulled the plug on Coulson’s legal bills. After all the attention they’ve had, police investigations into phone hacking and inappropriate payments made to the police officers for information, were just the limit. These allegations would clearly tarnish NGN’s reputation and standing, so soon after they acted to shut down NotW as a damage limitation measure.
The High Court had decided that the term of the compromise agreement did not apply to criminal acts committed by Coulson. Mr Justice Supperstone considered the facts known by NGN and Coulson at the time they went into the compromise agreement, including his original contract of employment, and concluded that Coulson’s duties were to act lawfully and that anything done outside of his normal lawful duties could not be included. The High Court also decided that although it was clear Coulson had been questioned by police, he had not been made subject of any proceedings.
However, the Court of Appeal have looked again at the wide wording of the promise to cover the legal fees, and found that if it were to have any practical use at all, it had to cover defending criminal allegations. That the charges faced by Coulson are about the ‘allegedly criminal manner of his performance of his role as editor’ since if the prosecution succeed in the phone hacking allegations ‘the offences charged would demonstrate a dishonest complicity in telephone hacking in a misguided attempt to fulfil his duty’.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Andy Coulson appeal over legal fees – Court of Appeal judgement. Venue: Court of Appeal, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL, 10:15AM Former News of the World editor appeals against High Court ruling that Newsgroup Newspapers is not liable for his legal fees in phone hacking actions.
Case reference: A2/2012/0077(A) Coulson -v- Newsgroup Newspapers Limited.
About Snigdha Nag – LLB, Barrister, Senior Lecturer She joined The City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court School of Law) in 2001 and teaches Civil Litigation, Civil Advocacy, Opinion Writing and Drafting, Negotiation and Employment Law.
Snigdha is a member of Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1997. Having completed a general common law pupillage, she went on to work as an employed Barrister specialising in Housing Law and Employment Law, including representation in the County Court and Employment Tribunals.