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after pressure at yesterday’s select committee hearing, it has been announced that this funding of legal costs has been withdrawn.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.