The Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has dismissed claims against Farrer & Co reputation management head Julian Pike, who was accused of telling News International (now News UK) to “put surveillance on to” two lawyers representing phone hacking victims.
A highly redacted Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) judgment on Lewis’s conduct in November 2016 stated that Seddons partner Mark Lewis and Kingsley Napley barrister Charlotte Harris and their families were subject to surveillance from News of the World in early to mid-April 2010 to try to stop them from launching phone hacking claims against the now-defunct newspaper.
This surveillance included speculation on whether Lewis and Harris were in a relationship, with Pike discussing whether they should obtain birth certificates for Harris’s children “in order to establish whether Mark Lewis was their father”.
In an email shown before the SDT, Pike told News International: “We should also pursue the line of whether [Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris] are an item.”
In a witness statement, 11 South Square barrister Alexander Silverleaf QC confirmed that it was his view that the surveillance was a “reasonable avenue for investigation”.
“I suspected that Lewis and Harris were passing information between themselves,” the statement continued. “They were both acting for claimants but appeared to be in possession of information that has come from the other. This was very likely if they were in a relationship and it seemed an entirely reasonable avenue to investigate.”
News of the World lawyer Tom Crone, who was referred to as “one of the most eminent in-house lawyers in Fleet Street” was named as having arranged for the surveillance to be undertaken. Crone was cleared of misconduct last year over charges he ordered the surveillance of two solicitors who were suing the paper over phone hacking.
The tribunal said: “While it was correct that surveillance was not illegal, absent exceptional circumstances, the spectre of solicitors carrying out surveillance on each other was repugnant.”
Pike, who has over 20 years’ experience advising high profile individuals, corporations and institutions who find themselves the subject of attention from the media, online attacks or campaigning or obsessed individuals, was told to pay £20,000 pounds in costs.
Pike said: “I am obviously pleased that this matter is now behind me. As a litigator, while you may know what the right outcome should be, there is never any such guarantee.
“On this occasion, the right conclusion has been reached. However, it’s disappointing the process should take five years. Such delay should be unacceptable.
“The decision on costs can only be described as bizarre given the Tribunal made no criticism of me and found I did not bring the matter on myself.
“I have been advised that I have a very strong argument in favour of an appeal which is under consideration.”
A spokesperson from Farrer & Co said: “We are pleased that the tribunal rejected the charge that Julian acted in breach of the SRA Code of Conduct and found his evidence to be open, frank and honest.
“He can now put the stress of the past five years behind him and concentrate on building his practice.”
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