Paul Burrell's claim to proceed to trial
The application by the publicist Max Clifford to strike out the claim for misuse of private information brought against him by Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, has failed.
The claim came to light as a result of the arrest in 2006 of Clive Goodman, the former Royal Correspondent of the News of the World. Among items found upon his arrest was a fax sent by Mr Clifford to Rebekah Wade (later Brooks) in November 2002, when she was the editor of the News of the World. Behind the fax cover sheet was a handwritten letter from Mr Burrell to Mr Clifford, which Mr Burrell says was written in confidence. The letter contained private information. It was disclosed to Mr Burrell by the Metropolitan Police in 2012.
Mr Clifford argued that the six year limitation period for claims for misuse of private information had expired by the time the Claim Form was issued. This was conceded but Mr Burrell relied upon s.32 of the Limitation Act 1980, which provides that a limitation period may run from when the wrong was discovered if it had been concealed beforehand. Mr Justice Mann concluded that Mr Clifford’s argument as to why s.32 was inapplicable was “unsustainable”.
Mr Clifford also advanced a number of arguments in support of a case that the claim ought to be struck out as an abuse of the process. The judge found that these arguments did not have “very much weight” in the context of the claim. In regard to the Mr Clifford’s argument that the claim was an abuse because damages would be out of proportion to the costs incurred, the judge found that the likely damages following trial would be more than nugatory and that costs could be controlled by costs budgeting. Therefore the claim was not an abuse of the process.
At the handing down of the judgment Mr Justice Mann considered whether the claim ought to be transferred to the County Court. He concluded that whilst the amount in issue was not substantial nevertheless the claim ought to stay in the Chancery Division given that the law concerning the misuse of private information is nascent.