In the recent case of Jeff Brazier v News Group Newspapers Ltd : John Leslie v News Group Newspapers Ltd , The court upheld a decision to strike out a television presenter's claims alleging phone hacking, finding that the claims had already been compromised by a settlement agreement in respect of earlier phone hacking claims brought by the presenter. He had agreed that compromise in full and final settlement of his claims, and had chosen to do so before receiving full disclosure, acknowledging that he did not know the full extent of the phone hacking.
The presenter had been one of many claimants who claimed against a newspaper group for the misuse of private information following widespread allegations of phone hacking. The various claims were managed together and proceeded by way of generic particulars of claim which indicated the general scope of the phone hacking activities and centred around one particular investigator engaged by the newspaper group. Each claimant also relied on particulars which were specific to their claim. The presenter settled his claim before full disclosure was given. Terms of settlement were agreed in a consent order. The presenter received damages and a public apology. However, he subsequently issued a second claim in respect of phone hacking activities which he had discovered after reaching the compromise. He maintained that the compromise only related to claims for phone hacking in respect of a particular mobile phone and a particular investigator.
The court struck his claim out, finding that the compromise encompassed all allegations of phone hacking by or on behalf of the newspaper group, and he appealed.
The court found that the consent order had stated that the terms were in "full and final" settlement of the presenter's claims, meaning that the claims were not to be interpreted restrictively. The presenter's individual particulars of claim emphasised that he did not know the full extent of the wrongdoing and indicated that he would seek to ascertain the full extent of the newspaper group's wrongdoing and obtain relief in respect of it. Further, the reasonable reader would see that the agreed letter of apology indicated that journalists employed by the newspaper group had invaded the presenter's privacy, rather than referring to only one investigator. An agreed statement which was read in open court emphasised that the presenter did not know and would never find out the true extent to which his privacy had been invaded but was "happy to let the matter rest".
The trial judge had not been wrong to conclude that the compromise included matters which the presenter did not know about and could not have known about. There was no legal obstacle to the compromise of claims which the parties were unaware of. It was an important part of the case pleaded in the first action that the presenter did not know the full extent of the newspaper group's activities. The presenter had chosen to compromise that action before disclosure was complete and had therefore chosen to forego the chance of finding out more. The pleading in the second action did not distinguish between damage caused by the phone hacking which was within the scope of the first action and phone hacking which was said to be exclusively related to the second action. It was impossible to disentangle the two.
The argument that the presenter had not been adequately compensated was an assertion that the consideration for the compromise of the first action was inadequate. However, the law was not generally concerned with the adequacy of consideration.
This decision is not particularly surprising and it serves as a valuable reminder that where a settlement has been reached, there will be extremely limited circumstances in which it will be possible for a Claimant to pursue further action in relation to the same or similar matters. Even if the full extent of the damage was not known at the time of the original settlement, this will usually not be a ground for pursuing a second action.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.