Sunday, September 25, 2011

#McCann :Greed, thanks to their very good mate Murdoch, enables the McCanns and their lawyers Carter Ruck to become even greedier !

Out-of-court payouts to phone-hacking victims put no cap on lawyers' fees
               Rupert Murdoch, hand on heart
Rupert Murdoch's out-of-court settlement to Milly Dowler does not reveal the legal fees involved. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters
Remember the moment, only four or so months ago, when a long, dogged media fight to reform England's libel laws (and the antics of no win, no fee libel lawyers) seemed on the brink of success? All three big political parties had finally signed up for change. America had twisted the screw by, in effect, deeming the "justice" meted out in the Strand not fit for export purpose. It was victory at last. And then Rupert Murdoch dropped the ball – or, more accurately, the mobile phone.

Farewell to eye-watering damages, fat legal rewards, to specialist flocks of barristers and hungry solicitors haunting every court? Not exactly. Here comes £2m for Milly Dowler's family, plus another £1m to charity (following hard on the heels of News International's £100,000 for Sienna Miller and that £400,000 for Gordon Taylor).

Just watch the winding queue of lawyers gathering at Lord Leveson's inquiry door. Yes, the eagles are back in town.

Now, of course, the big money awards cited up above don't involve libel at all – more its most favoured profitable successor, privacy. And none of the sums relate to anything decided after a formal hearing. They're all Murdoch out-of-court settlements with phone-hacking victims. Any test of the true state of affairs comes further down the line, as a handful of selected hacking cases make it through the courtroom door.

Will there be any more £2m payouts in Dowler mode? No. That's certainly a one-off. Indeed, several lawyers I spoke to don't really regard it as a legal settlement at all because, with Milly's murder, the victim who had her phone hacked was dead. This is just a humbled Mr M diverting the £3.7m bonus he might have paid his son James to a more immediately worthy cause. It says again how floridly sorry he is. It seeks to draw yet another quavery line under scandal.

But still, those millions may be seen as flashing lights in the court of public opinion.

They turn up the expectation switch.

They create a new class of victimhood – and the headlines they make cannot be brushed aside.

Before Max Mosley's victory over the News of the World, the biggest privacy award in the Strand (to Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas) was a mere £14,000 – pretty close to the modest tariff applied across Europe for section 8 breaches of the convention on human rights.

Mosley levered that up to £60,000. The Sienna Miller settlement, anticipating a case that might well have been brought to court, sets a high bar at £100,000. It says to prospective litigants that even if you can fully prove the offence and show clearly how it infringed your rights, reality caps your ambitions.

But hey! There's a News International £20m minimum pot to sup from. The legal fees in question - contingency bonanzas or not – won't be revealed if they're paid out of court.

Prospects for libel reform itself are beginning to slide back into some post-Leveson "grand bargain" that makes press regulation part of any deal. And the grander the bargain, the longer it will take – if it can ever be sealed at all.

Enter, pretty amazingly, the Dowler family as suddenly erudite champions of contingency fees.

Listen to the dawn chorus of £500-an-hour operators seeking to double their money.

No wonder our once bedraggled eagles are airborne again.

No wonder small or struggling papers without £3m in their back pockets begin to despair.

Victims of the hacking crisis, in sum, come in many shapes and sizes, and from many directions.

Thank you, Rupert: and goodnight.