Phone hacking and its close relations blagging and bribing were rarely out of the media law news in 2013. There were new arrests and charges throughout the year, culminating in an Old Bailey Trial. This began on 28 October 2013 with eight defendants facing seven charges.
So far there have been eight weeks of the trial. One defendant, Ian Edmundson, has been discharged from the trial for health reasons. The trial was well covered by some newspapers (although, despite the stories of sex and celebrities it was of little interest to the Sun).
The trial was received comprehensive coverage online, particularly from a number of live tweeters (notably @peterjukes whose tweets are summarised here). At the end of the seventh week, we had a survey of the available online reports, links and live tweets. The journalist who brought the story to public attention in 2010 and 2011, Nick Davies, has posted a complete set of court reports from the trial to date. A full collection of links can be found at #pressreform.
The trial will begin again after the Christmas break at 2pm on 6 January 2014. It is due to last another 3 to 4 months. On the last hearing day before Christmas the trial judge, Mr Justice Saunders, told the jury that the trial was running 2 to 3 weeks behind schedule.
A brief reminder of some of the highlights from phone hacking and related matters over the past 12 months:
- In January 2013, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn was convicted of misconduct in a public office after she admitted telephoning the “News of the World” on 11 September 2010, shortly after the phone hacking inquiry was re-opening.
- In February 2013, Mr Justice Vos (the then managing judge of the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception litigation) heard that the Duchess of York and 16 others settled their phone hacking claims. The Press Gazette reported that “in the three months to 31 December the [News Corp] incurred $56m (£35.7m) in costs relating to phone-hacking – bringing the total figure to more than $340m (£216.9m)“.
- On 13 February 2013 Six journalists or former journalists who had worked in the News of the World features department were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept telephone communications. These were the first arrests of “Operation Pinetree” – a second and separate phone hacking investigation.
- On 9 March 2013 two former police officers, an ex-prison officer and another public official pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office as a result of selling information to the Sun.
- On 14 March 2013 four present or former Mirror journalists were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to hack mobile telephone voicemail messages. They were the first arrests of journalists from outside News Group and were part of another new police investigation, “Operation Golding”.
- On 14 May 2013, the CPS announced that a journalist at the Sun newspaper, a press officer at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and his partner (not a public official) would be charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
- On 2 June 2013, the Mail on Sunday claimed that “legal reasons” had prevented it from disclosing the identities of the parties to a “secret love affair” which it said “could have serious political implications for David Cameron and his government“. On 31 October 2013, the prosecution opening in the phone hacking trial revealed that the affair in question was between Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson
- On 18 June and 21 June 2013 the CPS released statements on new charging decisions in Operation Elveden on announcing decisions to charge Sun journalist Nick Parker, prison officer Lee Brockhouse and Jamie Pyatt, a journalist at The Sun newspaper, John Edwards, Pictures Editor at The Sun newspaper, and Robert Neave, a former healthcare assistant at Broadmoor Hospital.
- On 28 June 2013, the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, dismissed appeals by five former News of the World employees against a preliminary ruling that interception of read voicemails constitutes an offence under RIPA. The appellants’ anonymity was removed and the appeal route to the Supreme Court was closed off.
- In July 2013, a transcript of the “Murdoch Tapes” – secret recordings of discussions between News Corp’s executive chairman and a gathering of Sun journalists – was published. The tape got “global coverage”. Rupert Murdoch later claimed he was “overly emotional” in comments he made about the police investigation
- On 8 and 9 July 2013 there was a hearing in the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation before the new managing judge, Mann J. Judgment was handed down on 12 July 2013 ordering Operation Pinetree disclosure.
- Six journalists appeared in court on 18 July 2013 over alleged payments to public officials, including the first non-News International journalist. Press Gazette reported the cases here. All the defendants were released on bail to appear at the Old Bailey on 6 August.
- On 6 November 2013, Mann J gave judgment in some “Mirror phone hacking” cases (Gulati and others v MGN  EWHC 3392 (Ch)). He dismissed applications by Mirror Group to strike out parts of all the claims and dismiss others. It was reported that the Mirror titles were facing 55 new civil phone hacking claims.
- On 27 November 2013 Operation Elveden officers arrested a 28 year old Merseyside health care worker on suspicion of making inappropriate payments to public officials. This was arrest number 80 in Operation Elveden.
Part One of this review was published on 28 December 2013 and covered “Press Regulation, Leveson and Royal Charters”.
Part Three, “Defamation and Privacy, not many trials or injunctions but a new Act” will be published shortly.