Paul Burrell v Max Clifford (2015)
In 2002, Paul Burrell, former Royal Butler to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, approached Max Clifford then a well-known publicity agent but now serving time in prison for sex offences. Burrell had asked Clifford to assist him with adverse publicity he was receiving and in a letter to Clifford, which Burrell maintained had been private, he gave details about his dealings with the Royal Family and in particular his relationship with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. The letter had been written the day following his acquittal at the Old Bailey on charges of stealing personal items belonging to the late Princess of Wales.
In the meantime Clifford faxed the letter to the News of the World, which is no longer in operation, but they did not print any story. Clifford contended that he had sent the letter to them to enhance negotiations in respect of Burrell’s book to be published the following year. The book, entitled A Royal Duty, was published with near identical details to those in the letter.
It was during an action Burrell brought years later against the publishers of the newspaper in respect of phone hacking that it was revealed in disclosure of documents that, his letter from 2002 had been faxed to the News of the World.
Burrell through his legal representatives made application for Clifford to be joined to that action for breach of confidence and privacy. However the publishers settled the case before the application was heard.
Clifford’s legal representatives made an application to strike out Burrell’s claim with his Counsel, before Mr Justice Mann in the Chancery Division of the High Court in London, contending that the action was outside the time limit and was an abuse of process with no realistic prospect of success.
Burrell’s case was being financed under a CFA where he had already incurred costs in excess of £28,000 with estimated costs of £232,000. Mr Justice Mann had noted the high level of costs but that they appeared to be in order which in itself he considered was not an abuse of process.
Mr Justice Mann refused the application to strike out. He considered that Burrell would not have any idea about the fax being sent to the newspaper by Clifford or have any concept of time periods as to when the fax was transmitted and when it might be published by the newspaper. Further he considered that it could not been shown that there was a Jameel abuse from the matters which Clifford had raised in his application.
Mr Justice Mann observed that as Burrell had published the information in his own book in 2003 it could be contended that he was unconcerned as to the privacy aspect, which may reduce any damages he might claim, but he considered that this was a different matter and needed to be examined further when the matter came to trial.
He considered the damages aspect and that Burrell could be awarded for the wrong committed against him together with upset and distress. If he could prove his claim then the seriousness of it could lead to greater damages, which in itself would not be an abuse of process. However, he hoped that the parties would come together and settle the matter before trial.