THE law firm embroiled in the News International saga involving phone hacking has come out fighting in the ongoing saga.
Harbottle & Lewis has been vigorously defending their positions and instructions against allegations made by News International executives Rupert and James Murdoch, newly released letters reveal.
UK publication The Lawyer reports the letters, sent to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from Harbottle and former News International in-house lawyers Tom Crone and Jon Chapman, show the lawyers defending themselves.
"The firm rejects News International's self-serving view of the firm's role in events," Harbottle said, responding to comments made about its role in the Wall Street Journal in July.
The firm was instructed by the director of legal affairs for News International in 2007, to assist the company in reviewing emails sent by and to the News of the World's royal editor at the time, Clive Goodman. Until now it has been understood that the firm was instructed to see if there was evidence that Goodman's illegal phone hacking was known about by the New International executives.
But the latest letters reveal the firm was given narrow instructions to review the emails. A small team, including one partner, an employment assistant, two paralegals and a trainee spent two weeks examining five electronic folders of emails, The Lawyer reports. They concluded the emails did not contain "reasonable evidence" that the phone hacking was supported by, or known about, by others in the company.
The letter argues that the retainer was limited. The firm wrote: "There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes.”
The firm said it would have been unable to report any findings of illegality to the police due to legal professional privilege rules, and would have refused any wider instruction to look at phone-hacking allegations as it is not a specialist criminal practice.
The firm also suggested that Rupert Murdoch may have confused its own work with the wider investigation carried out by Burton Copeland, another law firm that helped carried out investigations into phone hacking.