LONDON – Prince Harry’s battles with British tabloids are taking a detour from London courts to the halls of government as he seeks evidence from a decade-old inquiry that is central to his phone hacking lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily Mail, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The Duke of Sussex and celebrities such as Elton John and actor Elizabeth Hurley who are suing Associated Newspapers Ltd. want to use documents that were disclosed confidentially to a government inquiry into a scandal involving journalists who eavesdropped on voicemails of celebrities, politicians and even murder victims.
An attorney for Harry and the celebrities said he would ask government ministers to revoke or amend a previous order that restricted publication of records of payments to private detectives who allegedly bugged phones and used listening devices to illegally snoop on his clients.
The newspapers deny the claims.
Earlier this month, Justice Matthew Nicklin rejected the Mail’s attempt to throw out the case without trial, but also ruled the claimants could not use evidence that had been leaked from the inquiry. The judge said payment ledgers had been turned over in confidence to the Leveson inquiry and were therefore inadmissible without a change in the order restricting their release.
The lawsuit is one of several brought by Harry in his personal mission to tame the tabloids. He blames the media for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi. He also said the aggressive press led him and his wife, Meghan, to abandon their royal duties and decamp to the U.S.
It’s his third lawsuit against newspaper publishers to get the green light to go to trial on similar allegations.
Another judge is currently weighing whether to award Harry damages against the publisher of the Daily Mirror for using skulduggery to dig up dirt on his life. A similar case is to be scheduled for trial next year involving claims he and actor Hugh Grant have brought against The Sun.
Associated Newspapers declined to voluntarily disclose the evidence, so attorney David Sherborne said Harry and other claimants would ask government ministers who ordered the 2011 phone hacking inquiry to amend or revoke the orders.
The hearing Tuesday in the High Court was largely focused on how to award what the judge said could be record-breaking legal fees at this stage in the case for the previous round of arguments in court.
Nicklin said the Duke of Sussex and his fellow claimants were due legal fees because the publisher had been “wholly unsuccessful” and failed to deliver a “knockout blow” in its effort to throw out the case.
Claimants spent 1.7 million ($2.1 million) pounds to prevail against the publisher's failed attempt to get the case dismissed, Sherborne said.
The publisher is seeking up to 755,000 pounds ($945,000) in fees used to successfully block the use of the evidence from the Leveson inquiry.
Associated Newspapers attorney Adrian Beltrami said use of the ledgers was a breach of confidentiality obligations and that Harry's lawyers had “acted tactically and cynically in seeking to use such illegitimately obtained information to support their speculative claims”.
Nicklin said he didn't want to award the fees without further review and ordered another hearing in March.
"I’m interested in better justice, not rough and ready justice,” Nicklin said.
Other parties to the case are actor Sadie Frost, Elton John’s husband, David Furnish, anti-racism advocate Doreen Lawrence and former politician Simon Hughes.