LONDON (Reuters) - British film star Jude Law will sue the News of the World over allegations of phone hacking next year in a case to set guidelines over damages and which could involve senior management at the tabloid.
A judge hearing the case into phone hacking at the best-selling tabloid, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, selected Law and four others to act as lead cases in a trial that will begin in January.
The judge said it was crucial to establish how widespread phone hacking was at the newspaper and the degree of senior management involvement, as this could influence the level of any damages awarded.
Law’s case was included because it covers allegations of harassment, resulted in numerous stories and his disclosures had pointed to a senior executive at the News of the World, his lawyers said.
News International, publisher of the News of the World, later said in a statement: “Now that we have seen the disclosure we believe it is entirely false that the named executive is implicated in the alleged voicemail interception of Jude Law.”
A clutch of celebrities, politicians and sports personalities are suing publisher News International, a unit of News Corp, for violating their privacy by eavesdropping on their voicemail to unearth scandals to sell more newspapers.
The lead cases will establish principles for the others and eliminate the need for each one to be heard separately.
Judge Geoffrey Vos said it was also important to understand whether it was the work of individual journalists or a paper-wide policy to sell more copies and increase profits.
“Those are important questions as to exactly what was going on. To set the damages you need to know exactly what happened,” Vos told a case-management hearing in a London court.
The claimants say there was a “grand conspiracy” at the newspaper, meaning that illegal voicemail interception was standard practice and widely known about.
News International denies this, although it has admitted some liability and offered compensation to a few of the claimants. Actress Sienna Miller, Law’s ex-girlfriend, accepted a payout of 100,000 pounds ($162,700) last week.
The scandal comes at a time when News Corp is pursuing a planned $14 billion takeover of UK pay-TV firm BSkyB.
News International also owns the Times of London, while BSkyB owns popular 24-hour news channel Sky News and critics have claimed the deal would give the company too much influence over public opinion. News Corp has offered to spin off Sky News into an independent company if the deal goes ahead.
Ripples from the scandal at Britain’s best-selling Sunday tabloid have spread up to Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.
Andy Coulson, who resigned as editor of the paper in 2007 after a reporter was jailed for phone-hacking, was later hired by Cameron as his spokesman but resigned from that job earlier this year after the investigation was reopened.
The court decided on Friday on four other lead cases in addition to Law‘s: those of soccer agent Sky Andrew, designer Kelly Hoppen, who is Miller’s stepmother, sports pundit Andy Gray, and opposition Labour Party parliamentarian Chris Bryant.
Reporting by Kate Holton; writing by Georgina Prodhan