Lord Hain has been cleared of wrongdoing in naming Sir Philip Green as the claimant in his high-profile case against the Daily Telegraph while acting as an adviser to the newspaper’s law firm.
The parliamentary commissioner for standards accepted Lord Hain’s assertion that he was not aware that Ince Gordon Dadds was involved in the case.
Sir Philip, along with his businesses Arcadia Group and Topshop/Topman Ltd, sought an injunction to prevent publication by the newspaper in breach of confidence of information that had been the subject of non-disclosure agreements to settle complaints or claims by employees.
After the Telegraph had initially reported how it had been stopped from identifying Sir Philip by an interim injunction, the Labour peer named Sir Philip using parliamentary privilege.
The commissioner, former Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, said both Sir Philip’s solicitors, Schillings, and several members of the public complained that Lord Hain had broken the House of Lords code of conduct by failing to declare his role as a global and governmental adviser to Ince Gordon Dadds – especially as, Schillings pointed out, the firm’s involvement was “manifestly apparent from the front page of the open judgement”.
The complaints also argued that his connection to Ince Gordon Dadds meant his statement ought to be considered as providing a parliamentary service in return for payment or as acting as a paid advocate, that he broke the House’s sub judice resolution and that it was an abuse of parliamentary privilege to identify Sir Philip contrary to the judgment.
Lord Hain said that he was “completely unaware” that Ince Gordon Dadds was advising the Telegraph, and the firm told Ms Scott-Moncrieff that the peer had no involvement in the case and did not obtain any information from the firm.
Her report said: “I undertook a preliminary assessment of the complaints and rejected the allegation that Lord Hain had provided paid parliamentary services or advocacy as the complaints provided insufficient evidence that Lord Hain’s statement had been made on the behalf of or at the request of Ince Gordon Dadds.
“It was also far from clear that Lord Hain’s statement conferred an exclusive benefit on Ince Gordon Dadds.
“I also rejected the complaints with regard to the sub judice resolution or the appropriateness of Lord Hain’s use of parliamentary privilege as neither of these issues falls within the code of conduct and therefore are not within my remit. Both are matters for the House itself.”
However, Ms Scott-Moncrieff launched an investigation into the failure to disclose the association with Ince Gordon Dadds.
Lord Hain told her that he had been told the identity of the claimant after an approach by “an acquaintance” and that he did not read the judgment.
“He explained that he had based his decision to disclose Sir Philip’s name on moral considerations rather than on legal grounds. He had therefore not read the judgment and was unaware of Ince Gordon Dadds’ involvement and unaware of the need to declare an interest.”
Lord Hain told her: “I am not a surrogate lawyer and I was not acting as one. I was not challenging the court in that sense. I was doing what I thought was morally right.”
Ms Scott-Moncrieff said she accepted this account.
“Though it would have been desirable for Lord Hain’s consideration of how to act to have included whether he might have any relevant interests— discussing his intentions with the Lord Speaker in accordance with the House’s rules on matters which are sub judice might have prompted such consideration—and for a suitable declaration to have been made, I accepted his assertion that he had not read the judgment, and was not aware of Ince Gordon Dadds’ role in the legal proceedings.”
She added: “I would note that this case highlights the need for members to consider very carefully their actions in the House, and to take advice when necessary, to ensure the potential for breaches of the code is avoided.
“The more specific the matter under discussion and the more an action rests on the privileges and freedoms members of the House enjoy, the greater the need for such careful consideration.”
The intervention of Lord Hain had a mixed impact on the costs of the case, which was discontinued in February.
While it led to Mr Justice Warby not ordering the businessman to pay the newspaper’s costs of obtaining an interim injunction, the judge said he must pay indemnity costs for continuing the claim after it became “pointless”.