Hacking Trial: Jury Selection Begins

Rebekah Brooks

The criminal proceedings against Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and six others kicked off in London on Monday with administrative issues.

LONDON – A dark chapter in the history of Rupert Murdoch's media empire was back in the spotlight here on Monday as the criminal trial against Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and six others kicked off with discussions of administrative issues and jury selection.

Brooks, the former CEO of News International and editor of the now-closed News of the World, and Coulson, the former communications adviser of British Prime Minister David Cameron and former News of the World editor, both appeared in court Monday morning after a stormy, rainy London night.

They, along with the other defendants, spent a 30-minute morning session that started just after 10 a.m. local time in the dock of the courtroom, with Brooks sitting to the far right from the judge's vantage point, with her husband, Charlie, a defendant himself, next to her. Coulson was in the third seat from the left. Brooks was holding an iPad, her husband a laptop, and Coulson at one point took out a notepad and pen.

In the morning session focused on administrative issues, about 20 members of various parties' legal teams were present.

Opening statements in what at least one commentator here has called "the trial of the century" are expected as early as Tuesday. The judge in the case said he would like to hear the prosecution's opening statements on Tuesday if jury selection proceeds well during the rest of the day Monday. The process started just after noon local time.

TV camera crews started taking position outside the entrance of the court building early on Monday. At around 7 a.m. local time, there was a media pack of 10 people waiting outside the court, which opened its doors at 9 a.m., with take-away coffees and umbrellas. By 7:45 a.m., the number had grown to 20. Among the international TV and video crews spotted early were Al Jazeera and the Associated Press.

Among the topics of debate in the Monday morning session was the fact that one lawyer said the defendants couldn't properly hear the prosecutor from the dock, which is separated from the rest of the courtroom by a glass wall. "I shall speak up," the prosecutor responded. The judge said he could also help by providing a clip-on microphone, saying he wouldn't want the prosecutor to lose his voice early in the trial.

After an hourlong break, the court resumed without the defendants for a five-minute discussion of the cost of trial notes. The parties agreed to share them to avoid paying for the services of multiple professional transcription services.

The rest of the day was expected to focus on the selection of 12 jurors.

The hacking scandal erupted in July 2011 amid allegations that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. Celebrities were also found to have been hacked. The scandal led to the shutdown of the paper after 168 years.

The charges facing the various defendants range from illegally hacking mobile voicemails, perverting the course of justice by hiding evidence and bribing public officials for information.

Brooks, 45, faces charges of phone hacking, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice. Coulson, 45, faces charges of hacking and bribery.

Their cases are the ones expected to draw most attention in the trial that started Monday, which is one of three related trials. The other key defendants in the trial that began Monday are Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of the News of the World; Ian Edmondson, a former news editor; former royal correspondent Clive Goodman; Brooks' former secretary Cheryl Carter; and Mark Hanna, former head of security for News International.

The trial could take months -- with the judge saying Monday it could last until Easter -- and takes place at London's famous Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, known as the Old Bailey.

Since the start of the phone hacking scandal in the summer of 2011, Murdoch's media empire has changed. For example, the former News Corp. has split into publishing-centric News Corp and entertainment company 21st Century Fox.

Britain last year also undertook a review of media ethics and standards, led by judge Brian Leveson. His recommendations led to a multiparty agreement earlier this year that called for the creation of a self-regulatory body for the press. Political debate has delayed a final agreement to create the new regulator, though.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai