HACKGATE DAY 90: The curious logic of Michael Silverleaf QC

Silver-tongued Michael

More bizarre Newscorp defences to try the limited patience of Mr Justice Vos

Sienna Miller, the multiply-hacked victim of Newscorp criminality, has indicated that she wishes full disclosure of the News of the World’s heinous invasions of her privacy to be made public. She has, she declares, more interest in displaying a social evil than getting a shedload of hush-money. This thought clearly didn’t occur to either Gordon Taylor or Max Clifford, but it seems to have occurred to Sienna.

Such impure thoughts disturb Michael Silverleaf QC, the barrister acting on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s incarnation in Mammon, Newscorp. For this is the last thing his client wants. And so, just as NotW lawyers tried to argue that phones had rung themselves in people’s pockets 37 times, Silverleaf’s argument to stop Ms Miller consists largely of  “like, this is so unfair.” This is not a difficult defence to unravel.

Let’s start with money, this being the only issue of any import these days. Mr Silverleaf told Justice Vos yesterday that the £100,000 offer on the table for Miller should be seen in the light of “the maximum of £25,000 he believed Ms Miller would win by continuing her case”. This seems an extraordinary conclusion to reach, given the publicist Max Clifford got £750,000 for not going to Court at all. But probably – on Silverleaf’s scale of costs – there is an inverse correlation between the amount of publicity generated, and the award on offer. The ethical logic perhaps runs like this: “The less duty to society you perform, and the less care you display for the liberty of others less fortunate than yourself, the more we will punish you”. I suppose that works for some people, but I’m not sure it’s the basis for a decent and fair legal system.

As to the attempt at this stage to stop the legal process from going any further – and thus block the release of any further details of the wicked, wicked ways of the News of the World – Murdoch’s head legal eagle bluntly asserted that the newspaper will seek to have Sienna’s case thrown out of court if she fails to accept the financial offer. The strategic reason for this (in case you missed it, it’s easy enough to do) is that when it comes to email blagging by the NotW, Sienna Miller alleges that email hacking took place in December 2008 – a full two years outside the Murdoch Inclusion Zone. If such a case proceeds – and Miller wins – then of course the “it only happened for two years” line of Newscorp’s ever-shrinking torres vedras is blown to smithereens. (I can now disclose that the newspaper threatened by Newscorp for the very same ‘offence’ last Monday was The Independent. The paper has since taken its Sunday piece about alleged hacking of Princess Eugenie in 2009 down from the online edition).

However, the legal basis for seeking to throw it out seems distinctly sticky to me. Silverleaf argued that “civil litigation does not exist for people to vent their feelings, it exists to provide remedy”. Were I Justice Vos, I might be minded to suggest that the two motives, if justified, are one and the same. Of course, were I Miller’s brief, I might also plead public interest – a defence that would be a deliciously cold and ironic vengeance, given the lame excuses offered over the years for yelling into celebrity letter-boxes.

Michael Silverleaf wound up his argument by declaring, “any attempt to pursue the proceedings would be an abuse of process”. Actually Mikey, it’d be a full-frontal attack on your wall of silence: whether that’s abuse or not will be for Justice Vos to decide. I like the cut of Vos’s jib: he has alreadu shown that he is not a man to suffer bollocks gladly.

———————————————

To the neutral’s eye, it remains very hard to spot any moral dimension to the Newscorp request for nothing further to be known about their illegal invasions of privacy. If there is nothing unpleasant to hide, then why not let nature take its course? If Sienna Miller chooses to be silly and lose £75,000, then why not rejoice and have a decent spot of luncheon on the proceeds?

But to any neutral listener, what Silverleaf’s argument sounds like is a threat. The same bullying tone, I’d imagine, that made the Indie back down earlier in the week. The tone one might adopt having read Miller’s recent admission to the media that “yes, the amount of money this is costing is scary”. The tone one might, thinking hypothetically, adopt with individuals on a Parliamentary Committee who persist in asking a lot of awkwardly impertinent questions. In this sense, some might see Mr Silverleaf as a gunslinger hired by the ranchers keen to run them pesky sodbusters outta town. I wouldn’t, as I see no evidence at all that Newscorp’s top QC is a violent man: he is merely defending a client – in return for, presumably, a great deal of money.

Two defences of the tabloid way of doing things came from odd quarters over the last 48 hours. In the Dacre Mail, Littlejohn pumped himself up into a paroxysm of illogic before observing that ‘…I don’t condone what went on, although we’re not talking Watergate here. But nor do I understand what the difference is between the Screws listening to Sienna Miller’s tittle-tattle, and the self-righteous Guardian publishing leaked emails from national security agencies….’

Poor old Littlebrain: he has never been able to separate the bigotry from the big issue, has he?

The other attack on all things anti-hack came in the shape of a blog in the Daily Telegraph from Brendan O’Neill. Unlike Littlejohn, O’Neill doesn’t have the cerebral condition enabling a degree of sympathy for the Mail’s chief ranter. He thus has no excuse for writing this piece of unutterable moral negligence:

‘To me, the sight of police officers taking a journalist in for questioning over the alleged methods he used to get a story is infinitely more shocking than the fact that Sienna Miller or Tessa Jowell had their voicemail messages listened to.’

Well Bren, if that’s what you feel – ‘my media right or wrong’ – them I’m sorry for you. I just find it sad that a basically good egg like O’Neill can’t see beyond the grubby Murdoch way of the world towards the real issue here: wholesale police corruption, judicially tentative law officers, security services abuse – and a massive case of political cover-up to save several senior Cabinet careers past and present.

Still, if nothing else the blog has broken the almost tangible silence we’ve had from Tony Gallagher’s Torygraph columns since this massive affair – sorry, Littlejohn, but this is the British Watergate – got going. Perhaps (like the nudity of Newscorp CEO Rebekah’s plea to Keith Vaz) Brendan gave something away when he began the piece, “I can’t be the only journalist in Britain who feels increasingly uncomfortable with the investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World.” Too right, chum.

The other thing missed by both journalists is the naked bullying involved here. Most bullying is a symptom of fear. I detect a very strong smell of fear among the  Wapping Fibs at the moment. A third former member of the Fourth Estate wrote to me yesterday, warning that ‘these people are not like you and I – they will lash out, and it will hurt. Be careful’. I don’t have delusions of grandeur, but I do keep my current location very quiet: to do anything else would be silly. Whatever happens to any of the people circling the Murdochs – and whatever their agenda – the one thing on their side is that our culture needs to not just seek out wrongdoers: it needs to push and push again until the Might is Right stormtroopers are pinned down in one final Bunker. And then watch them all hang themselves, one by one.

18 thoughts on “HACKGATE DAY 90: The curious logic of Michael Silverleaf QC

    • Not at all….they have no money, Richard: that’s what rich bullies do – terrify the poor folks.
      Lots of rich people aren’t bullies. Lots of poor people are. I hold no brief for either Left or Right in the class-ridden politics of this country: I just believe in equality before the law.

  1. A slight case of naiveté here John, doncha think? — you can rest assured Miller will take the cash offered — she can of course sound public-spirited & wish to represent the common-good — but, this is a lady far above the fray & quite possibly reliant on Murdoch related dollars in her acting career — Pressure can come from many quarters

    • Maurice, sometimes cynicism is the ultimate naivete.
      Perhaps she will take the money. But I tell you what: Steve Coogan won’t. Jude Law won’t. Pressgut won’t. And for sure, the Royals won’t.
      This isn’t even 25% over yet.

      • iF
        Silverleaf argued that “civil litigation does not exist for people to vent their feelings, it exists to provide remedy”.

        Is not that to which a remedy is being sought the claimed widespread hacking of phones and just about what ever. If Newscorp has albeit indirectly admited some of this then surely the process can not be sought to be thrown out – or am I missing some legal catch all

      • Assuming you’re correct regarding 2/pudding Presser & applying the old adage — ‘my enemy’s enemy etc.’ — Well — new friendships will be evolving ‘hither & yon’

      • What this needs to come to the conclusion all readers of The Slog should crave is for the best lawyers to give their time, literally, pro bono. Surely they exist in sufficient number?

    • If some of those who are not interested in the large payouts accepted the money now then they could donate (or just hint at) a large portion of it to the others so as to use Newscorps money to fight Newscorp

  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-news-international-has-a-long-way-to-go-2265748.html

    Sun.April 10th. The Independent made two declarations, insisted on the first….they had never hacked into peoples voice mails nor has our sister Title the Independent.
    The second to confirm the Soham families had been hacked…

    It has been five days and not one other news outlet has confirmed the Soham hacking’s…except for Hugh Grants audio tapes now released which when Hugh asked also may include Milly Dowler’s family….five days to check on the Independent who denied ever using such tactics..someone has found out this was not quite true maybe ?

    I have a copy of this article if for whatever reason it should get pulled.

  3. The same type of tactics Maxwell used to use to scare off his detractors.
    Newpaper proprietors seem to operate in a different world to the rest of us and they get away with it. Well maybe not this time, we can but hope.

  4. For those of you who do not understand the costs rules, the normal rule is costs in cause</i ie the looser pays both sides costs thus the 100’000 offer is to set for the rule that states that if an offer is made and declined costs are normally those of the decliner _after_ that point in the action, but none of these rules bind the trial judge.

    The plaintiff can ask that costs in cause continue while rejecting an offer and the judge can always award say 100’000.01.

    • If the legal profession believes in the rule of law – as opposed to what Murdoch and the Met and Cameroon get up to – it has to pursue this case as far as it can go – even at their own personal expense. They can afford that. They can’t afford the alternative.

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