Daily Mail parent company invokes Human Rights Act to stop naming of journalists

The Daily Mail’s parent company has successfully invoked the Human Rights Act to stop other media outlets naming its journalists in a phone hacking court case.

Prince Harry and a group of other prominent individuals are bringing cases alleging widespread illegal behaviour by reporters at Associated Newspapers. In their claims they name 73 journalists and editorial executives who have worked at the Daily Mail and its sister titles over several decades.

Lawyers working for the Daily Mail said publishing the names would breach the journalists’ right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act. This is despite the Mail long using its editorial pages to campaign against the European-derived legislation.

Barrister David Sherborne, representing Harry and other claimants at the high court, noted it was surprising to see a newspaper that has campaigned for press freedom object to the publication of the names: “They say different rules apply to their journalists suspected of wrongdoing, as opposed to others suspected of wrongdoing.”

Catrin Evans KC, acting for Associated Newspapers, successfully argued there was no justification for publication of the journalists’ names at this stage. She told the court that publication of the names could cause “immense reputational damage” to the 73 individuals who worked for the Mail and invade their privacy.

The company did confirm that the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and former the Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright are named in the allegations. The allegations of illegal behaviour are strongly denied by the Mail’s parent company and it is not clear in what capacity the 73 individuals are named.

The judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, agreed and temporarily blocked identification of the Mail journalists pending his interim judgment, partly because the individuals have not had the opportunity to offer up a defence.

He told the court: “Although I do recognise I am preventing the reporting of the journalists’ names at this stage, this is in the interests of fairness and the administration of justice.”

Prince Harry flew in especially for the pre-trial hearing, taking notes at the back of the courtroom as lawyers argued over the intricacies of the case. He sat one seat down from Sadie Frost, who is also part of the legal case, along with the likes of Doreen Lawrence and Elton John.

Sherborne, acting for the prominent individuals, told the court that they collectively allege the Mail engage in a wide range of illegal activity.

This includes “illegally intercepting voicemail messages, listening into live landline calls, obtaining private information, such as itemised phone bills or medical records, by deception or ‘blagging’, using private investigators to commit these unlawful information gathering acts on their behalf and even commissioning the breaking and entry into private property”.

He said the allegations against the Mail’s parent company mainly relate to a period from 1993 to 2011, with some claims relating to event that took as recently as 2018.

The Mail is attempting to stop the claims before trial on two grounds: first, that the claims are “stale” because the prominent individuals waited too long to bring their cases, which largely relate to events that took place more than a decade ago.

And secondly, that the allegations rely on material provided by Associated Newspapers to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics, which the company therefore believes should be restricted from use in this legal case.

Sherborne said Mail’s parent company had now prevented full media reporting of the proceedings for five months and argued that it was time to let them progress to trial.