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Mirror Group refused permission to appeal landmark phone hacking damages awards

Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) has failed in its bid to overturn a landmark ruling in which it was ordered to pay approximately £1.2 million in damages for infringing the privacy of eight individuals through phone hacking.23 Mar 2016

The publisher's attempt to bring an appeal against a December 2015 judgment by the Court of Appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court refused MGN's application for permission to appeal because it did not "raise an arguable point of law". The application was considered by Lords Neuberger, Sumption and Hughes.

In May last year the High Court awarded damages totalling nearly £1.2 million to eight people, including former footballer Paul Gascoigne and actresses Shobna Gulati and Sadie Frost, for phone hacking carried out by the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People between 1999 and 2010.

Each of the eight individual damages awards made by Mr Justice Mann exceeded the highest previous award for misuse of private information, which was £60,000 awarded to Max Mosley in 2008 in his claim against News Group Newspapers.

In his judgment Mr Justice Mann took the view that the damages awards should reflect the infringement of individuals’ right to control their private information, not just the distress caused. He placed significant weight on the fact that the intrusion by MGN was "an infringement of a right which [was] sustained and serious".

MGN appealed the High Court ruling to the Court of Appeal but was unsuccessful. It had raised four grounds of appeal, including that the damages awarded should be limited only to claims for distress and should not take account of the eight individuals' loss of autonomy over their private information as a result of its activities.

The publisher had further claimed that the damages awarded were too large compared to personal injury damages and those awarded in privacy cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights. It also unsuccessfully argued that the damages awards should be revised down to account for "double-counting".

The Court of Appeal upheld the damages awards of Mr Justice Mann and made clear that the High Court judge was entitled to award the damages that he did. It approved the basis on which those awards were calculated.

However, the Court of Appeal also pointed out that the phone hacking claims concerned "an exceptional situation". It cited the "extensive and serious" nature of the hacking and the fact that it had caused "distressing consequences" for the eight victims in respect of their relationships and personal lives.

Lady Justice Arden said: "These appeals, hopefully, concern an exceptional situation. There were misuses of private information beyond our ability to know and count.  So it is wrong to look at the global sums … which each respondent has been awarded without remembering that fact. In  addition  the  circulation  of  the  private information  was  to  a  very  large  number  of  persons  and  touched  on  the  most intimate  part of  the  lives  of  the  some  of  the  respondents. It understandably caused great distress."

Media law expert Imogen Allen-Back of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it can be interpreted from the Court of Appeal's ruling that future damages awards for misuse of private information may not necessarily "be of the same order of magnitude" as those awarded in the phone hacking cases.

She said, though, that the Court of Appeal’s confirmation that damages can be awarded for the very fact of the intrusion and the loss of autonomy over the private information, as well as for the distress caused, means that we are likely to see higher damages awards in this area in the future.