London law firm Signature Litigation has used a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to secure a clarification from The Sunday Times over a report on an ongoing costs dispute in the RBS rights issue litigation.
Signature, and its client Manx Capital Partners, complained to IPSO after the newspaper refused to back down over an article in August 2018 headlined “Tycoon sues sovereign funds over RBS fees”, according to a report issued yesterday by IPSO of the “mediated outcome”.
The firm acts for a large number of claimants in the case and was retained in that capacity by the RBoS Shareholders Action Group, which acts as agent for the claimants. In March 2017, the role performed by the group was delegated to Manx on a sole exclusive basis.
The article reported on litigation launched by Manx against 18 of the institutional claimants, who Manx allege failed to pay their share of the legal costs after leaving the group, which at the time the paper said amounted to £24m.
The article later mentioned a second case in which Manx was investigating the amounts being claimed as costs by management and contractors of the action group.
The article quoted a source which said that the outcome of the argument in the latter case would be critical to the outcome of the former. This source also said it was “ridiculous” that Manx’s owner was “suing everyone for not paying the bills that he himself is disputing”.
Signature and Manx said the comments made by the source were inaccurate: the two pieces of litigation were entirely separate and the outcome of one would not fundamentally affect the outcome of the other.
They also complained that they had not been given the opportunity to comment on the claim.
Further, they said the source’s claim regarding disputed bills was also inaccurate: the sum of the bills – approximately £9m of costs and expenses – for which Manx is suing the institutional claimants was not disputed; rather, the issue was liability for their payment.
The Sunday Times did not accept it had breached the IPSO code, arguing that the quote was clearly presented as a personal opinion and was attributed to a source close to one of the defendants.
The newspaper said that this opinion may be right if the costs incurred in the second action were reduced as a result of the first action.
It added that the reference to “disputed bills” would be understood in a general sense, and not as a specific reference to the sum of one bill.
The newspaper said the facts of the litigation were set out in the article and readers were therefore able to judge for themselves whether or not they agreed with the source’s opinion.
However, after IPSO became involved, The Sunday Times agreed to publish a clarification as a footnote to the online article:
This said: “Following publication of this article, Manx Capital has told The Sunday Times that the source quoted was incorrect in suggesting that Manx was suing the former claimants over the same bills as it is itself disputing. Manx has confirmed that the legal claim by them referred to in the article relates to around £9 million of costs and expenses that are not disputed anywhere.”
Signature and Manx said this would resolve the matter to their satisfaction, meaning IPSO did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of its code.
This is the second time in a year that Signature has successfully complained to IPSO; last February, the Sunday Express issued a substantial correction to a story that implied the law firm was in dispute with its RBS clients.