U.K. Phone Hacking Trials to Begin: What to Expect

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Rebekah Brooks

The criminal trials against Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and other Murdoch confidants are set to kick off in London on Monday.

LONDON – Phone-hacking allegations during the summer of 2011 sent shock waves across Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Now, more than two years later, the criminal cases against Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and other Murdoch confidants are set to begin Monday.

The trials of 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, are expected to draw much media attention in the U.K. and beyond. The other key defendants include 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.

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The defendants are expected in court Monday, even though the day might focus only on jury selection and might not include opening statements.

The trial will take place at London's famous Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, known as the Old Bailey. The nickname comes from the road the building stands on. It follows the line of the City of London's former fortified wall, or bailey. Trials at the Old Bailey are open to the public, but visitors are subject to strict security procedures. Bags, electronic devices or food are not allowed in the visitors' gallery.

The judge in the case is John Saunders.

Since the start of the hacking scandal, much has changed in Murdoch's media conglomerate. News Corp. has split into publishing-centric News Corp and entertainment company 21st Century Fox. The stock market value of the companies has jumped following an initial hit during the scandal.

Britain last year went through a long review of media ethics and standards, led by judge Brian Leveson. His recommendations earlier this year led to a multi-party agreement that called for the creation of a self-regulatory body for the press, but continuing political debates have delayed a final deal.

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The phone hacking trials are expected to once again draw headlines and attention to Murdoch's News Corp and its News U.K. unit, formerly known as News International.

21st Century Fox recently said it has set aside a total of $150 million for indemnifying News Corp for legal and related payments tied to the phone-hacking scandal. Of that, $110 million was for "the fair value of expected future payments to be made." In a recent regulatory filing, 21st Century Fox added that "U.S. regulators and governmental authorities are conducting investigations relating to the U.K. newspaper matters" and that it is "not possible at this time to estimate the liability, if any, of the company relating to these investigations."

Reports have said that that U.K. police have been looking at possibly bringing corporate criminal charges against News U.K. after most of its focus previously was on charges against individual journalists. Reports also have said that the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have been considering investigating News Corp under the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act, which allows for severe penalties against companies found to have bribed foreign officials.

Observers have said though that any possible activity in these areas would depend on the result of the hacking trials. "The risk to News Corp is corporate fines and any U.S. investigation, for which Fox is not indemnifying News," said Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan.

News Corp has said it has continued to cooperate with the authorities.

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