I'm not a big fan of the Murdochs.
Between all of the phone hacking, the assaults on civil liberties, the studied electoral manipulation, lying to boost their own position, while doing damage to the allied cause in WW1, the assaults on my cherished BBC, the whole creation of FOX news, it's not hard to see why.
There is one good way to bring the family down: The Proceeds of Crime Act - they can't avoid it by closing the paper down.
The proceeds of crime act is the UK's asset seizure law. The law was essentially passed to prevent multi-millionaire drug dealers and so on keeping all of their ill-gotten cash, gravel drives, stone-cladded houses in Altincham and ugly, tasteless yachts (1).
It occurs to me, that wedded to the phone hacking inquiry, this could be used to basically hammer News International. They'd probably end up flogging it to assorted Russian billionaires, but that is frankly tomorrow's problem.
Could News International be prosecuted as a company for Phone Hacking?
(Dusts off law degree)
First, is there even a potential liability?
YES: Non-vicarious liability arises if the offender (say, Andy Coulson? Rebekah Brooks?) was a "directing mind and will of the company". It applies to all types of offences, including those which require guilty mind. You can prosecute a company - and I'm quoting the statute directly here - for "any offence apart from murder, treason or piracy".
Can they be liable?
YES: Now, a company can't be criminally liable for offences which are committed by an official of a company outside the scope of their employment, for example rape. But I'd say hacking clearly falls under the ambit of something you might ask (or indeed order) a journalist to do.
What would you charge the company with?
Conspiracy to intercept communications.
A company can be party to a criminal conspiracy, but only with at least two other conspirators who are human beings - including at least one who is an appropriate officer of the company and acting within the scope of his authority. Nab Coulson and any one other journalist, and bam, you're set.
Could we then seize News International?
It would be hard - confiscation under POCA only follows conviction. It's part of the sentencing process,so would only apply if News international was convicted of an offence. Then if the parent company had "manifestly benefited from the offence", and was convicted, there could be confiscation of assets.
Then, there would be a complicated calculation of how much the phone hacking benefited the parent firm. So, we're probably looking at a massive fine rather than a seizure of the building with James Murdoch dragged out in cuffs, but still, it would be a nice slap in the face for the family. And it would be a lot more than the paltry £20million they have put aside to compensate victims.
Once, as a journalist, I exposed a criminal, who literally fled the country in a yacht. Best day ever.
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