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Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 17:46 GMT
Q&A: Legal options left to Hamilton and al-Fayed

The BBCs Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg answers News Online's questions on the way forward for Neil Hamilton.

Does Mr Hamilton have the right to appeal?

Yes, but he would have to show he could meet Mohamed al- Fayed's legal costs if he were to lose the appeal. It seems unlikely Mr Hamilton could do that.

The total costs are estimated to be in excess of 2m. Why are they so high?

Each side had a team of solicitors working on the case full time during the five-week hearing, as well as two leading counsel on each side. In addition there were two years of preparation, with witnesses to interview and documents to read. Mr al-Fayed's solicitors briefed George Carman QC, the most highly-regarded barrister in his field. Lawyers at the top of the profession can charge whatever the market will bear.

Are his backers liable to pay?

Yes. The High Court decided in 1989 that it had the power to order someone who was financially supporting a claimant's libel action to pay the defendant's costs if the action failed (Singh v. Observer [1989] 2 All ER 751). However, in a subsequent case (Symphony Group v. Hodgson [1994] QB 179) the Court of Appeal said an order for the payment of costs by a non-party would always be exceptional.

We believe that at least 20 Tory MPs made donations to the fund. Is there any way their names could be revealed?

Yes. In the Singh case the High Court ruled it had the power to order someone who was 'maintaining' an action to disclose his or her identity. The Court said this power overrode any undertaking of confidentiality given by the claimant or his solicitor.

Could Lord Harris of High Cross - who was in charge of the 'fighting fund' - be held responsible personally for the costs?

Lord Harris would argue that although he organised the fund he did not contribute to it himself. A court might decide it was fairer for those who put substantial sums into the fund (5000 or above) to pay towards Mr al-Fayed's costs in proportion to the amount they contributed to Mr Hamilton's fighting fund.

Does this mean complete financial ruin for Mr Hamilton?

He has said he will have nothing left. His wife has said he will be bankrupt.
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