The Sun's publisher loses bid to delay trial over Prince Harry's phone hacking claims

The Sun newspaper's publisher has lost a bid to push back a possible full High Court trial in relation to unlawful information gathering claims.

There are 42 existing cases against News Group Newspapers (NGN), including one brought by Prince Harry, and a full trial of some of the claims is currently due to take place in January 2025.

The allegations cover phone hacking, using private investigators, "blagging" information, burglaries and bugging, a court has heard.

NGN has previously denied unlawful activity took place at The Sun.

At a hearing on Wednesday, the publisher asked a judge to hold a preliminary trial - that would focus on deciding whether the cases have been brought too late and are outside a legal time limit - instead of a full one.

But in a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt dismissed NGN's request - meaning some of the cases will go to trial next January, unless they are settled out of court before then.

The judge said there was a "plainly considerable risk" of a preliminary trial "increasing costs overall and delaying" a full trial by up to two years.

"That is unsatisfactory," he said.

A trial on the issue of timing would not determine the full details of the allegations against NGN and could have resulted in some claims being "time-barred" and dismissed.

NGN's lawyers argued this approach would have been the "most efficient" way of dealing with the cases and could "promote" settlements.

However, the legal team representing Prince Harry and others said it would be "highly disruptive and prejudicial" and cause "substantial delay".

NGN's request came "late," Mr Justice Fancourt said, adding there were "too few advantages to abandoning the orderly preparation" of the January 2025 trial, where the question of timing will still feature.

The decision comes days after Hugh Grant settled a claim against NGN after being told he could still be liable for £10m in legal costs, even if he was successful at trial.

Actress Sienna Miller also settled a case against NGN and cited legal costs as a factor in her decision.

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On Wednesday, a lawyer representing Prince Harry and others said the Duke of Sussex was "subject to the same issues" and could also be forced to settle his claim because of the risks of legal costs.

An NGN spokesperson said earlier this week: "In 2011, an unreserved apology was made by NGN to victims of voicemail interception by the News Of The World. Since then, NGN has been paying financial damages to those with proper claims.

"As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago. In some cases, it has made commercial sense for both parties to come to a settlement agreement before trial to bring a resolution to the matter.

"There are a number of disputed claims still going through the civil courts, some of which seek to involve The Sun. The Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations.

"A judge recently ruled that parts of Mr Grant's claim were out of time and we have reached agreement to settle the remainder of the case.

"This has been done without admission of liability. It is in both parties' financial interests not to progress to a costly trial."