The first phone-hacking trial begins next week before Mr Justice Saunders and a jury in Court 12 at the Central Criminal Court (the “Old Bailey”) in London on Monday 28 October 2013. The first day or two are expected to be taken up with legal argument and the selection of the jury so the prosecution opening is not likely to begin until Tuesday or Wednesday. The trial is expected to last at least 4 months.
There are eight defendants – who deny all the charges – facing a trial:
- Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive of News International and editor of the News of the World,
- Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World and Downing Street Communications Director.
- Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer and the husband of Rebekah Brooks
- Ian Edmondson, a former news editor of the News of the World,
- Stuart Kuttner, the former managing editor of the News of the World,
- Clive Goodman, former royal editor of the News of the World
- Mark Hanna, former head of security at News International
- Cheryl Carter, a former PA to Rebekah Brooks.
There are seven charges falling into three groups. Only the first is directly concerns “phone hacking”:
- Edmondson, Brooks, Coulson and Kuttner between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006, conspired together and with others and persons unknown to intercept, without lawful authority, communications in the course of their transmission by means of a public telecommunications system, namely mobile phone voicemail messages.
There are then four charges concerning alleged payments to public officials:
- Goodman and Coulson, between August 31, 2002, and January 31, 2003, conspired together and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.
- Goodman and Coulson, between January 31, 2005, and June 3, 2005, conspired together and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.
- Brooks between January 1, 2004, and January 31, 2012, conspired with others and persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.
- Brooks, between February 9, 2006, and October 16, 2008, conspired with others and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.
Finally there are two charges relating to the alleged concealment of evidence:
- Brooks and Carter between July 6, 2011, and July 9, 2011, conspired together to do a series of acts which had a tendency to and were intended to pervert the course of public justice, namely permanently to remove seven boxes of archived material from the archive of News International.
- Brooks, Charles Brooks and Mark Hanna, between July 15, 2011, and July 19, 2011, conspired together and with others and persons unknown to do an act or a series of acts which had a tendency to and were intended to pervert the course of justice, namely to conceal documents, computers, and other electronic equipment from officers of the Metropolitan police who were investigating allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun
A large team of lawyers are involved in the trials. The prosecution team is led by Andrew Edis QC, Mrs Brooks is represented by Jonathan Laidlaw QC and Mr Coulson by Timothy Langdale QC.
A large number of journalists will be covering the trial – with about 20 in the court and another 50 in an annexe watching monitors. There is an interesting piece in The Drum by Chris Boffey, “Press gear up for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson ‘trial of the century‘”
There are obvious concerns that, in view of the high level of press, public and political interest in the trial, there may be publicity which prejudices the fair trial rights of the defendants. The Daily Telegraph reports that the solicitor general, Oliver Heald, has written to the leaders of the three main political parties warning them to remind MPs not to comment about it in the House of Commons. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said:
“The Solicitor General, in his role as independent guardian of the public interest, wrote to the leaders of each of the main Westminster parties advising them that this trial was due to start shortly. In his letter the Solicitor asked for their assistance in ensuring that party members and officials refrained from any commentary which may be perceived as prejudicial to the case and those involved.”
There are particular worries about the possible impact of social media. Texting, tweeting and use of social media from the Court will be banned during the trial but this will not prevent discussion of the evidence on Twitter and the blogs and great care will be required. Media consultant David Banks has promised “a daily digest of news, links to the best reports and such commentary as the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and any other restrictions will safely allow” and the campaigning group Hacked Off will have daily reports from Court on its website.