Allowing the lawyers to speak

What the News International authorisation may and may not mean.

It would appear that News International has authorised the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to answer questions in respect of its now famous advice of 2007 in respect of whether a cache of emails revealed any wrongdoing. The precise wording of the relevant part of statement reads:

"News Corporation's management and standards committee can confirm that News International has today authorised the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to answer questions from the Metropolitan Police Service and parliamentary select committees in respect of what they were asked to do."

However, this is not as clear as it perhaps looks. It carefully avoids the word "waiver" and uses "authorisation" instead. This may mean that no legal professional privilege is being waived at all. If it is only an authorisation, then the statement is saying no more than the obvious: any client can authorise (or instruct) a lawyer to answer questions on the client's behalf.

The authorisation (or waiver) also does not seem to be a complete one, which would allow Harbottle & Lewis to discuss the affairs of News International freely. Instead, it is an authorisation on terms limited to answering the questions of the police and the select committees of the House of Commons. The authorisation does not mention dealing with press enquiries.

Furthermore, the authorisation does not expressly permit Harbottle & Lewis to fully co-operate with the police or parliamentarians, but only to answer questions. Accordingly, any information so obtained will only be as good as the questions asked. The statement also omits to mention whether Harbottle & Lewis will be entitled to provide documents in addition to answers.

The questions and answers are likely to be in written form in any case, as the partner responsible for the letter of advice is no longer with the firm. There is probably no one still at the firm who can give relevant oral evidence. And one can envisage how "lawyerly" the written answers may well be. There is also no mention of whether Harbottle & Lewis will be able to answer questions free from any prior consultation or discussion with News International.

It may well be that Harbottle & Lewis make the most of this opportunity to provide information to the police and the select committees; after all, this highly-regarded firm has suffered severe criticism for the content of that letter of advice. Any answers (and documents) that they do provide will be covered by parliamentary privilege. News International will not be able to bring any civil action to stop them and, depending on the precise terms of the authorisation, there would be no regulatory or disciplinary sanction News International can threaten either.

The statement issued yesterday by News International does not necessarily mean that the full circumstances of the 2007 advice will now come to light. But there is a rich and intriguing possibility that something interesting may well result from this. As lawyers tend to say when pressed: it all depends.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is the author of the Jack of Kent blog and can be followed on Twitter and on Facebook.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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I hate musicals. Apart from Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Follies – oh, wait

Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling.

I always thought I hated musicals. Showy, flamboyant, and minutely choreographed, they seemed to be the antithesis of the minimalist indie scene I grew up in, where a ramshackle DIY ethos prevailed, where it wasn’t cool to be too professional, too slick, too stagey. My immersion in that world coincided with the heady days of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s triumphs in the West End – Evita in 1978, Cats in 1981 – neither of which I saw, being full of scorn for such shows.

From then on I convinced myself that musicals were not for me, conveniently forgetting my childhood love of West Side Story (for which I’d bought the piano music, bashing out “I Feel Pretty” over and over again in the privacy of the dining room, on the small upright that was wedged in behind the door).

I was also conveniently forgetting Meet Me In St Louis and A Star is Born, as well as An American in Paris, which I’d been to see with a boy I was actually in a band with – he somehow finding it possible to combine a love of The Clash with a love of Gene Kelly. And I was pretending that Saturday Night Fever wasn’t really a musical, and neither was Cabaret – because that would mean my two favourite films of all time were musicals, and I didn’t like musicals.

Maybe what I meant was stage musicals? Yes, that was probably it. They were awful. I mean, not Funny Girl obviously. When people ask “If you could go back in time, what gig would you most like to have attended?” two of my answers are: “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, and Barbra Streisand in the original 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl.” I would, of course, also make an exception for Guys and Dolls, and South Pacific, and My Fair Lady, and… oh God, what was I talking about? I’d always loved musicals, I just stopped remembering.

Then one of our teens took me to see Les Misérables. She’d become obsessed with it, loving the show so much she then went and read the Victor Hugo book – and loving that so much, she then re-read it in the original French. I know! Never tell me today’s young people are lazy and lacking in commitment. So I went with her to see the long-running stage version with my sceptical face on, one eyebrow fully arched, and by the time of Éponine’s death and “A Little Fall of Rain” I had practically wept both raised eyebrows off my face. Call me converted. Call me reminded.

I was late to Sondheim because of those years of prejudice, and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since, keeping my eyes open for London productions. Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory was stunning, and Imelda Staunton in Gypsy (yes, I know he only wrote the lyrics) was a revelation. Here she is again tonight in Follies at the National Theatre, the show that is in part a homage to the era of the Ziegfeld Follies, that period between the wars that some think of as the Golden Age of Musicals.

Although, as Sondheim writes in his extraordinary book, Finishing The Hat, (which contains his lyrics plus his comments on them and on everything else): “There are others who think of the Golden Age of Musicals as the 1950s, but then every generation thinks the Golden Age was the previous one.” How I would have loved to have seen those shows in the 1970s, when they were new and startling.

They still are, of course, and this production of Follies is a delight from start to finish. A masterclass in lyrics – Sondheim’s skill in writing for older women is unmatched – it is also sumptuously beautiful, full of emotion and sardonic wit, switching between the two in the blink of an eye, in a way that appears effortless.

And I realise that what I love about musicals is their utter commitment to the audience’s pleasure. Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling, and my mascara has somehow become smudged from having something in my eye, and I have already booked tickets to go again. So sue me.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left