In full: Judge's statement on David Cameron comments

Mr Justice Saunders, the judge in the phone hacking trial, considered halting proceedings after David Cameron's comments on the conviction of Andy Coulson. Here is the statement he read out at the Old Bailey on Wednesday before the jury was discharged after being unable to reach verdicts on separate charges of misconduct in public office.

Application has been made to me to discharge this jury on the basis that it is no longer possible for Andrew Coulson and Clive Goodman to have a fair trial on the remaining two counts that the jury are considering.

The application is based on the publicity last night and this morning following the verdicts delivered yesterday on Count 1. Immediately after the verdict the PM issued a statement apologising for employing Mr Coulson. That statement has been followed by pronouncements by a large number of politicians from all parties. I have not considered and will not consider anything that has been said in Parliament as that is covered by parliamentary privilege and is the sole prerogative of Parliament.

Mr Justice Saunders Mr Justice Saunders rebuked the prime minister over comments he made about Andy Coulson

I asked for an explanation from the prime minister as to why he had issued his statement while the jury were still considering verdicts. I received a response from his principal private secretary, which said: "The prime minister was responding to the guilty verdict on hacking charges that had been delivered in open court. He did this in the light of the intense media coverage and understandable public interest. The prime minister was careful to make no further comment about any matters that might still be before the court."

I accept that that was the prime minister's intention, but I am afraid that to an extent his explanation misses the point. He has now told the public and therefore the jury that he was given assurances by Mr Coulson before he employed him which turned out to be untrue. The jury were not aware of that before and it is a matter which is capable of affecting Mr Coulson's credibility in their eyes. Mr Coulson's credibility is a matter which is in issue on the final two charges that the jury have to consider.

Start Quote

When politicians regard it as open season, one cannot expect the press to remain silent”

End Quote Mr Justice Saunders

Other politicians have chosen to comment about Mr Coulson and as a result the jury have heard of matters which were not admitted at the trial for legal reasons. I am certainly not seeking or intending to single out the prime minister. Politicians from across the political spectrum have seen fit to make strong comments about Mr Coulson despite the fact that the jury are still deliberating. The chairman of the parliamentary committee which investigated phone hacking has told the public that Mr Coulson lied to them in the evidence that he gave. Evidence of what Mr Coulson said before the committee could not be given in court as it would amount to a breach of parliamentary privilege. That was the view of parliamentary counsel which was conveyed to the court and which I accepted. Again that information is capable of affecting the jury's view of Mr Coulson's credibility.

Mr Langdale [Andy Coulson's lawyer Timothy Langdale] who made powerful and well argued submissions to me relies on the public importance of those who made the comments and the increased likelihood therefore of the jury being influenced by them. This was a significant factor in the Court of Appeal's decision in the case of McCann and as he says, while the decision is an old one, the principle has not changed.

David Cameron David Cameron made an apology in front of the TV cameras in Downing Street

My sole concern is to ensure that justice is done. Politicians have other imperatives and I understand that. Whether the political imperative was such that statements could not await all the verdicts, I leave to others to judge. The issue for me now is to decide whether I am satisfied that Mr Coulson will receive a fair trial on the other two counts or whether the prejudice is such that that is impossible.

I have been referred to the decision of the administrative court in contempt proceedings brought against parts of the media following the partial verdicts in the case of Levi Belfield. I am satisfied that the revelations in those reports were considerably more prejudicial to the fair trial of Belfield on the remaining counts than is the case here.

The decision in this application is entirely fact-specific. Not merely is it fact-specific, but it is also specific to this jury who we all have been watching at work for eight months. First this jury have shown that they are entirely capable of putting out of their minds prejudicial material in reaching their decisions. At the start of this trial I heard two days of submissions on behalf of Rebekah Brooks to the effect that there was so much prejudicial material about her in the public domain that the jury would inevitably convict her and it was impossible for her to have a fair trial. She has been acquitted of all the charges against her. I trust that no-one will maintain that complaint now. Everyone who has watched the jury have been impressed with their dedication and their ability to concentrate on the evidence and follow directions of law. Our legal system is based on the premise that juries comply with directions of law given by the judge.

Andy Coulson Andy Coulson leaves the Old Bailey in central London

We should not forget the stage of the case that we have reached. The jury at the moment are deep into an analytical discussion of the evidence on Counts 2 and 3 and have been for sometime. I am fortified in that belief by consideration of the notes that I have received from them. There is no reason to suppose that they will be diverted from that course. We underrate juries, and particularly this one, at our peril.

It should also be borne in mind that by virtue of the verdict that the jury have already returned, they are sure that Andrew Coulson has lied to them about his involvement in phone hacking. Therefore, while important public figures in defence of their own position or to attack another's have revealed other lies told by Andrew Coulson, those revelations will have less effect on the jury.

I watched a fair amount of the news coverage last night in anticipation of this application. I have considered other material which has been referred to me. As I have made clear, I have also considered the cases of AG -v- Associated Newspapers and R -v- McCann.

I have decided that the jury should not be discharged as I am satisfied that the jury will continue to try Mr Coulson and Mr Goodman on the evidence that they have heard in court and solely on that evidence.

That does not mean that I am not concerned about what has happened in this case. I consider that what has happened is unsatisfactory so far as justice and the rule of law are concerned. The press in court have been extremely responsible in their reporting of this case but when politicians regard it as open season, one cannot expect the press to remain silent. I accept that this case is very unusual if not unique, but the situation could occur again and I would urge that discussions take place to try and set up a better system of dealing with it.

I have considered whether, in the light of what has happened, I was correct to take partial verdicts. I am fortified in what I did by the fact that no counsel has suggested I was wrong even with the benefit of hindsight and by the fact that what I did accords entirely with the practice direction, which lays down the procedure for taking verdicts and emphasises the necessity for the same procedure to be followed by all judges.

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  72.  
    07:24: Household incomes

    Big discussion about the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on household incomes. Whether the average household income is back to levels they were at before the financial downturn struck. One one measure, for the over 60s, it is. But for most of the rest of us, it hasn't got there yet. Our story here.

     
  73.  
    @PickardJE Jim Pickard, chief political correspondent for the Financial Times

    tweets: Household incomes returning to pre-crisis levels, more or less. Labour's campaign theme for March? Cost of living crisis.

     
  74.  
    07:15: 'Sounds a lot' BBC Breakfast

    Mr Farage says his new immigration system would cost "a few hundred million pounds" which "sounds a lot" but would bring huge savings in the long run.

     
  75.  
    07:14: 'Some exceptions' BBC Breakfast

    UKIP suggests someone coming in to Britain should earn £27,000 or more. But when it's put to Mr Farage that a nurse's starting salary is much less than that, he admits: "I do accept that with the health service there will be some exceptions."

     
  76.  
    07:12: Skilled workers BBC Breakfast

    Nigel Farage has moved on to BBC Breakfast. He says last year 27,000 people came into the UK who would have passed UKIP's points system. He seems happy with that as long as all of that number don't claim benefits for five years and have health insurance.

     
  77.  
    07:06: 'Wages have struggled' BBC Radio 4

    Over on Today - which you can listen to via the live tab above - Paul Johnson, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says incomes have "taken an awfully long time to recover", but the government has made a "reasonably significant effort at reducing the deficit". More on the IFS's view of wages in our story here.

     
  78.  
    07:01: 'Back to normality'

    Nigel Farage has done his first interview of the day on Good Morning Britain. He was pressed about his immigration policy. He said the 50,000 mentioned by Steven Wolfe wasn't about net migration it was "about the number of foreign workers" arriving in Britain. He says the British public are "bored of targets", and he wants to get immigration "back to normality", which traditionally "varied between about 20 and 50,000 a year". He sounds slightly exasperated when it's put to him that, actually, that still sounds like a target.

     
  79.  
    @BarrySheerman Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield

    tweets: Selling off the family silver in a panic as Election approaches Royal Mail East Coast & now Eurostar! What a Govt!

     
  80.  
    Gawain Towler, UKIP communications officer

    tweets: @Nigel_Farage waiting to go on Good Morning Britain @ukip

    Nigel Farage

     
  81.  
    @WalesPolitics BBC Wales Politics

    tweets: More Welsh voters think David Cameron (34%) would make a better PM than Ed Miliband (23%), according to a BBC Wales/ICM poll published today

     
  82.  
    06:48: Policy muddle? Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    You might say this is just policy nerds at Westminster trawling over the details of UKIP policy, but the danger, I think, for them is that this moves from a policy muddle story to a policy shambles story. It could become an issue about UKIP's credibility and how serious a party they are, and that does have the potential to damage them. It also follows a bit of a tangle they got into over the NHS a short time ago about whether they favour a private insurance model or not.

    I wonder - and we saw it to some extent with the Greens last week - if the smaller parties are beginning to sweat a bit now the focus is really on them. They are beginning to find it a bit tougher.

    Despite all the talk of this election being different from any before, I wonder whether actually this might really end up being the usual big clash between the two big parties on the two big issues, the economy and the NHS.

     
  83.  
    06:41: Party politics
    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May

    We stand corrected. Having said Theresa May seemed unmoved by whatever joke David Cameron and Nick Clegg were enjoying yesterday before the Mexican president's visit, we've found evidence to the contrary. Here she is having a ball with the deputy PM.

     
  84.  
    06:38: Lib Dem drug policy
    Nick Clegg

    Nick Clegg is due to give a speech today on drugs. He'll say a future Lib Dem government would take control of drugs policy out of the hands of the Home Office and give it to the Department of Health. He will also pledge to end the "nonsense" of jailing people for possessing small amount of drugs for their personal use, and say young people should not be penalised in later life because of a criminal record.

     
  85.  
    @YouGov YouGov, polling firm

    tweets: Update: Cons lead at 2 - Latest YouGov / Sun results 3rd Mar - Con 36%, Lab 34%, LD 5%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%; APP -19

     
  86.  
    06:32: Target ditched? Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    Nigel Farage is expected to say his party wants a new migration control commission to get net migration down. We already know it also wants to give commonwealth citizens the same rights to come here as EU workers. And if it was in government, UKIP would have a points-based system, like in Australia, to only allow in highly skilled workers that the economy needs.

    But the idea of a cap - or target - on how many can come appears to have been ditched. Having seen the Conservatives get into trouble after they spectacularly failed to deliver on a firm pledge to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, the UKIP leader says he does not want any 'arbitrary targets'. But just last week the party's spokesman on the issue, Steven Woolfe talked about an annual gross target of 50 thousand workers. It's something the party has touted as policy for months.

     
  87.  
    06:27: UKIP immigration speech

    On to today's news. Campaign-wise, UKIP are currently top of the shop with a big speech coming up later on one of the subjects they're most associated with - immigration. Leader Nigel Farage will promise not to set "arbitrary" immigration targets and instead focus on controlling our borders with an Australian-style points-based visa system. The use of the word "arbitrary" is no doubt a dig at David Cameron who, of course, vowed to get immigration down below 100,000 at the last general election, but has been unable to do so.

     
  88.  
    06:22: Front pages

    Here's our digest of today's newspapers. In terms of politics, the Sun claims to have a Budget exclusive, saying George Osborne is planning to cut the price of a pint again. Elsewhere, the Times' front page carries a big picture of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in stitches at an event on Tuesday. Whatever the joke was, Theresa May, pictured behind them stony-faced, doesn't seem to get it.

     
  89.  
    06:18: Labour demands more on abuse

    Labour want to go further and make it mandatory for any allegation of abuse to be reported. They accused the government of "a missed opportunity", but others, including, former Conservative children's minister Tim Loughton, warned against Labour's idea, saying it could put victims off telling anyone about their suffering.

     
  90.  
    06:16: Child sexual abuse

    Tuesday was dominated by the issue of child sexual abuse as a damning report into the treatment of girls in Oxfordshire was published. David Cameron held a meeting at No 10 and announced that in future, teachers, councillors and social workers in England and Wales who fail to protect children could face up to five years in jail.

     
  91.  
    06:11: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to a fresh Wednesday's political coverage. Victoria King and Matthew West will bring you all the action, reaction and analysis in text and you'll be able to watch and listen to all the main BBC political programmes, from Today and Breakfast through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament. Don't forget you can get in touch by emailing politics@bbc.co.uk or via social media @bbcpolitics. Here's how Tuesday unfolded.

     

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