Gulati & Ors v MGN Limited [2015]

In Gulati & Ors v MGN Limited [2015] EWHC 1482 (Ch) (21 May 2015) the claim had involved phone hacking by the Mirror Group listening to voicemails left for celebrities by their friends, and then writing articles in the paper. The damages awarded are greatly more than those previously awarded in earlier cases.

The Claimants contended that compensation should be broken down into elements for loss of privacy, injury to feelings and “damage or affront to dignity or standing”.

The Defendant contended that the only matter that should receive compensation “is distress or injury to feelings”.

Mr Justice Mann observed that the differences of opinion in respect of compensation in privacy matters is central to a case and how it is decided. He further observed that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 gave effect to the right to privacy and referred to Campbell v MGN where “Lord Nicholls said:

  • “18. … It is sufficient to recognise the values underlying articles 8 and 10 are not confined to disputes between individuals and public authorities.” Baroness Hale noted “Those values (or interests) are not confined to protection from distress, and it is not in my view apparent why distress (or some similar emotion), which would admittedly be a likely consequence of an invasion of privacy, should be the only touchstone for damages”.

Justice Mann pointed out that the approach taken by Defendant’s counsel went against the authority and referred to the case of AAA v Associated Newspapers Ltd 2012 involving a one year old child who was awarded £15,000 for a photograph taken and published of her in a matter where the child could not have suffered any distress.

The Defendant’s counsel considered the award should consist of two aspects, distress and vindication and referred to R (Lumba) v Secretary of State for the Home department (2012) where he contended the case removed “vindication” leaving only distress.

Justice Mann referred to Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd where Lord Dyson said

  • “I see no justification for letting such an unruly horse loose on our law. In my view, the purpose of vindicating a claimant’s common law rights is sufficiently met by (i) an award of compensatory damages, including (in the case of strict liability torts) nominal damages where no substantial loss is proved, (ii) where appropriate, a declaration in suitable terms and (iii) again, where appropriate, an award of exemplary damages.”

Mr Justice Mann noted

  • “This conclusion is not to reintroduce vindicatory damages by the back door. I treat as being ruled out for these purposes the sort of damages referred to by Lumba and Weller. What is still open is to allow for compensation to be given for the act of misuse itself, where appropriate. I do not see in principle why that should not be allowed, and good reasons why it should be”.

The Claimants contended that damages should be paid in respect of three different areas, firstly voicemail interception, blagging of personal information and articles resulting from the voicemail interception and blagging. The Defendant, through their counsel, argued that damages should only be awarded for distress, the Claimant should receive one amount covering all the above activities to compensate for the distress caused by the wrongs committed against them.

Mr Justice Mann in considering the case before him thought another element had to be looked at as, each article brought with it its own level of distress and, each witness their own degree of general distress, therefore, it would be right to have individual awards so as to adequately cover the distress caused to each person to give a true representation.

Mr Justice Mann considered the judgments in many cases that were comparable with this one including Weller and found that he was only able to consider them by making observations without going into too much detail. He noted the disparity between the amounts awarded in earlier cases where they were too low in comparison with later cases.

He further noted that the Judges in the various cases did not look to other areas of law to see if there were any similarities but surmised if libel was alleged they might have those damages in mind. Further the cases he had studied did not provide for the level of damages claimed in these cases.

Mr Justice Mann also considered the case of Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and could not agree that the injury to feelings element, damages for distress, in that case could be equated with privacy matters.

He then considered from the evidence before him the level of distress, caused by the phone hackings and articles written, on the Claimant in great detail and made varying awards to each of them. One of the Claimants was awarded £260,250 with another £85,000, each award being carefully considered by Mr Justice Mann, taking into account the levels of invasion of privacy, number of articles written and the pursuits of private investigators affecting them.

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