A lawyer has pointed out to me that the News of the World could have defeated civil claims by people whose phones it allegedly tapped instead of paying out damages and costs which, according to the Guardian last week, cost the paper more than £1m.
Section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 excludes all phone-tapping evidence from legal proceedings, subject to exceptions that do not apply in the present case.
Subsection (1) prohibits the disclosure of any suggestion that actions under subsection (2) have occurred. Subsection (2) describes the actions which may not be disclosed, including actions that would constitute offences under the Act.
It’s a bit complicated, but it seems to mean that the claimants could not have relied on evidence that their phones were tapped. That means they would not have been able to prove their case.
That would have put them in a far weaker position when it came to settling their case, though the News of the World might still have paid out to avoid publicity.
More to thie point, section 17 seems to rule out any future civil claims based on telephone-tapping.