Mulcaire and confidentiality

What impact will the withdraw of litigation funding have?

Since the revelations in the New York Times revived the phone hacking scandal back in September 2010, one of the most puzzling aspects has been the "settlement" agreement that News International had entered into with Glenn Mulcaire. In particular, as was pointed out at Jack of Kent, a conventional settlement agreement made no sense if Mulcaire was not actually an employee to begin with.

Since then, it has become clear that the agreement had two key terms in addition to any cash payment for Mulcaire to compromise all and any legal claims against News International, if he ever had any such claims at all.

First, there was an obligation of confidentiality on Mulcaire. This is standard in such agreements, though in this case it was clearly convenient to News International. A cynic may even suggest that was the whole point.

Second, there appears to have been an indemnity for the payment of Mulcaire's legal fees for defences to civil claims. This may have been tied into a further right of News International to conduct his defence. This would have been sensible from a strategic point of view, as it appears News International was facing a number of actions as co-defendant with Mulcaire.

However, after pressure at yesterday's select committee hearing, it has been announced that this funding of legal costs has been withdrawn. Apart from the direct financial detriment this will have on Mulcaire, it is not clear what impact this will have on either the confidentiality provision or any right of News International to conduct his defence on his behalf. If the agreement is sophisticated and well-drafted, it may be that the indemnity can be dropped without any effect on whether other obligations can be enforced.

In any case, it would now seem that Mulcaire has no direct interest in co-ordinating any defence to the civil claims with News International. He may well feel at least morally released from any obligation of confidentiality. The withdraw of funding his defence may have a significant impact on the course of the outstanding civil claims. In this way, as in many others, the events of this week mean that News International cannot carry on as before.

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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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.