NGN not liable for ex-News of the World editor's legal bills if allegations of criminal activity are made against him, court rules
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has lost his high court bid to force News Group Newspapers to pay his potential legal costs over the phone-hacking affair.
Mr Justice Supperstone, handing down judgment on Wednesday, ruled that Coulson's former employer is not liable to pay his legal bills if allegations of criminal activity are made against him.
Coulson had asked for a declaration that NGN, which stopped payments in August, "must pay the professional costs and expenses properly incurred" by him "in defending allegations of criminal conduct" during his tenure.
Supperstone said in the judgment: "Clause 4.6 of the agreement [between Coulson and NGN] does not cover the criminal allegations made against Mr Coulson personally.
"If, contrary to my view, the criminal allegations are covered, no proceedings have commenced. For the reasons I give above, this claim fails."
The judge ordered Coulson to pay NGN's costs and refused him permission to appeal, although he can renew his application directly to the court of appeal.Coulson has consistently denied allegations of criminal wrongdoing. He was arrested and bailed on 8 July by the Metropolitan police in connection with conspiracy to unlawfully intercept communications and payments to police officers.
He resigned from his position as David Cameron's director of communications in January, saying that coverage of the scandal was making it too difficult for him to do his job.
Coulson and NGN entered into a severance agreement – which included a clause about payment of future legal costs – on 26 February 2007, two days before he resigned as editor of the News of the World.
Coulson wanted the high court to declare that the contract meant that NGN "must pay the professional costs and expenses properly incurred by [Coulson] in defending the criminal allegations".
However, Supperstone said in his judgment: "Plainly, as editor, Mr Coulson was required to act lawfully. That being so, the reference to editor in the clause must be to someone performing the lawful duties of editor. His duties comprised only of lawful activities.
"Accordingly it cannot have been intended that activity outside the scope of an editor's lawful responsibilities would be covered by an indemnity; still less that the indemnity should extend to any serious criminal activities for which he was alleged personally to be responsible."
NGN earlier on Wednesday lost a separate high court action brought by Glenn Mulcaire, meaning that the newspaper group must continue to pay the private investigator's legal fees in future phone-hacking litigation.