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Former News International legal duo face solicitors tribunal

More than three years after it emerged that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked – leading to the closure of The News of the World and the launch of the Leveson inquiry – the reverberations from the scandal continue to rumble on.

The latest episode has seen News International’s former director of legal affairs Jonathan Chapman and the newspaper group’s former lawyer Lawrence Abramson face a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing following allegations regarding their handling of the phone hacking investigation.

The hearing, listed for 10 October before a three-person tribunal, will be public unless the tribunal directs otherwise. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which puts around 200 cases a year to the SDT, referred the case after an investigation into the pair that began in 2011.

The SDT in December last year suspended Alastair Brett, the former head of legal at The Times, for six months following allegations that he failed to act with integrity and knowingly allowed a court to be misled.

Abramson reviewed 300 emails, including those of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, in 2007 following the jail sentence handed to former royal editor Clive Goodman for intercepting mobile phone messages. Then chairman of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, claimed in July 2011 that the company’s law firm had failed to highlight wider problems linked to the investigation.

Chapman and Abramson have been working in consultancy roles since the investigation. Chapman, who left News International in August 2011 after eight years at the company and previous roles at Enron and Clifford Chance, is now a consultant at Birmingham-based Tallar. Abramson, who was managing partner at Harbottle & Lewis when working for News International, left in 2010 to join Fladgate as partner and head of media, before switching to boutique Keystone Law as a consultant.

The SRA said in a statement: ‘A case brought by the SRA against Lawrence Abramson and Jonathan Chapman was listed before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on 28 July and was adjourned until October. In view of other proceedings the SRA has not made any comment or publication on this matter, including the nature of the allegations which Mr Abramson and Mr Chapman face, and is unlikely to do so given the hearing in October.’

The SDT is independent of the SRA, which instigates over 90% of the cases dealt with by the tribunal. The SDT’s decisions are subject to a right of appeal to the High Court.

Click here for an in depth 2013 report on the proposed Leveson reforms to media regulation