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Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney: 5 things we learned from the War of the WAGs

From a phone lost at sea, orchestrated photoshoots, and the court ultimately determining that it was indeed “……….Rebekah Vardy’s account”, the Wagatha Christie trial has had many talking points. In this article, we discuss the key lessons learned from the Vardy v Rooney case.

There were numerous pre-trial applications made in this case, as well as a lengthy trial resulting in a 290 paragraph judgment from Mrs Justice Steyn. Our series on this dispute has explored various issues that have emerged throughout the litigation, but in summary, here are the top 5 things that we have learned from this case:

The importance of making applications promptly and complying with the pre-action protocol

As discussed in part 1 of our series, Mrs Rooney made an application to add an additional claim to the proceedings against Ms Watt for misuse of private information.

The application was filed on 13 December 2021 (which was just over 4 months before the date that was fixed for trial at the time of the application). Mrs Rooney had given no prior indication that she was considering or intending to bring proceedings against Ms Watt, and no letter of claim was sent.

Two of the key factors cited by the court in deciding against the application were that:

  1. Due to the delay in making the application, if the claim were to be added, the procedural timetable for additional claim would have to be considerably shortened in order to maintain the timetable to trial of the main claim; and
  2. Mrs Rooney did not take any steps to comply with the Pre-Action Protocol before launching proceedings against Ms Watt.

The importance of complying with disclosure obligations

A very interesting aspect of this case has been the disclosure that was provided (or not provided) by Mrs Vardy. Part 2 of our series sets out the highly unusual circumstances in which some of Mrs Vardy’s disclosure was not available, which included the deletion of all media files from Mrs Vardy’s WhatsApp communications with Ms Watt.

Two experts found Mrs Vardy’s explanation that the deletion of the data occurred during a transfer of data to be improbable and, in Mrs Justice Steyn’s judgment, it is likely that Mrs Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt. In these circumstances, Mrs Justice Steyn considered it proper to draw an adverse inference (as the court may do so where a “wrongdoer” has “parted with relevant evidence”).

It is clear from this case that the court will take a stringent approach in relation to disclosure, to ensure that parties comply with their duties. For more information on disclosure obligations, click here.

Orders for non-party disclosure will not be made lightly

Another of the pre-trial applications made by Mrs Rooney was for the disclosure of communications between Mrs Vardy and 9 journalists. This application was discussed in detail in part 3 of our series.

Whilst the application was successful in respect of one of the journalists, Mr Halls, the court determined that Mrs Rooney had named the remaining 8 journalists in her application “in order to cast the net wide enough, without being in a position to show that communications with any identified journalist exist other than with Mr Halls”.

The court agreed with the characterisation of the application as a “fishing expedition” and therefore refused to make the order sought in respect of 8 of the journalists.

The importance of complying with court rules on witness statements

Part 4 of our series considered the application made by Mrs Vardy to strike out parts of Mrs Rooney’s witness statement. The application was made on the basis that certain paragraphs of the witness statement consisted of (1) a recitation of or commentary on documents in the trial bundle; and (2) irrelevant, hearsay or unpleaded material (including material that had been previously struck out of Mrs Rooney’s defence).

Some of the paragraphs complained of contained evidence regarding communications to which Mrs Vardy was not a party to. The court stated that “commentary on the effect of those communications is a matter of argument for counsel. It has no place in [Mrs Rooney’s] witness statement”. Further, other paragraphs of Mrs Rooney’s statement contained commentary on and recitation of documents that had been disclosed during the proceedings. The court also determined that this commentary had no place in the witness statement. These paragraphs were therefore struck out by the court, demonstrating the importance of ensuring that a witness statement complies with the court rules.

The public nature of litigation may do more harm than good

Due to the public nature of litigation, there is a risk that a party may end up doing more harm to their reputation by airing their dirty laundry rather than resolving their dispute in private. Indeed, many would argue that Mrs Vardy has done herself no favours in pursuing her claim against Mrs Rooney. As outlined in part 5 of our series, damning evidence emerged throughout the trial which, in Mrs Justice Steyn’s words, demonstrated Mrs Vardy’s “willingness to provide information to the press about others within her circle which they would undoubtedly have preferred not to be disclosed”.

Litigation requires significant time and money, and most cases end up settling before trial. So, why did Mrs Vardy pursue her claim all the way to trial, particularly when she knew that she had leaked information (whether about Mrs Rooney or other celebrities) to the media?

Perhaps one answer to this question is because, as Mrs Justice Steyn noted, there was “a degree of self-deception on [Mrs Vardy’s] part regarding the extent to which she was involved, as well as a degree of justified resentment at the exaggerated way in which her role has at times been presented during the litigation”. Another possible explanation is that many of the pre-trial applications were decided in Mrs Vardy’s favour (as outlined above). Perhaps, in Mrs Vardy’s mind, this emboldened her position.

What we can say for certain is that, aside from the salacious details that consumed the press, there are some important legal lessons to be learned from this case.

The litigation process can be tricky to navigate and there can be severe consequences for failing to comply with the court rules. For more information, please call us on 020 7632 4300 or make an enquiry.

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