Phone-hacking trial judge says British justice on trial

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Media captionRebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson attend jury selection on Monday

The judge hearing the case of former News of the World journalists accused of phone hacking has said UK justice is on trial, as well as the defendants.

Mr Justice Saunders' warning came after a jury was sworn in at the Old Bailey.

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson are accused of conspiring with others to listen to voicemails.

They are among eight defendants who deny a range of charges.

The trial concerns allegations of wrongdoing at the News of the World before it was closed down in July 2011 after claims journalists had hacked the mobile phone of murder victim Milly Dowler.

The jury of nine women and three men was sworn in after the selection of jurors began on Monday.

Andrew Edis QC will open the case for the prosecution on Wednesday. The trial could last up to six months.

Separately, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said proceedings for potential contempt of court were not needed, after Private Eye magazine referred to Ms Brooks on its front cover.

'Significant publicity'

Mr Justice Saunders told the jury: "I am going to give you some extremely important directions. They are always important but they could not be more important than they are in this particular case.

"The defendants are on trial but British justice is also on trial. It is a central principle of our system of trial by jury that you reach your verdicts only on the evidence heard in court.

"Where evidence is given in court that can be and will be tested.

"There has been a great deal of publicity about this case, perhaps an unprecedented amount.

"The internet is generally not controlled and often fuelled by opinion and speculation, a great deal of information is imparted and received by people through Facebook and Twitter.

Image caption Andy Coulson also served as David Cameron's communications chief

"A significant amount of publicity has been inaccurate and misleading... offensive and demeaning to some of the defendants. A lot is ill-informed and most of it is abusive."

Mr Justice Saunders referred to this week's edition of Private Eye magazine, saying its attempt to produce a satirical cover was exactly what the jury should put out of their minds.

"Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition... it bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover," he said.

"It is meant to be satire. You ignore it; it has no serious input and it is not relevant to your considerations. It is one of those things that you will have to ignore, a joke that in the circumstances of today is a joke in exceptionally bad taste.

"It is only the views of you 12 that we want at the end of this trial."

The judge warned the jury there had been occasions when jurors had failed to follow instructions to decide the case only on the evidence before them and had sought out information online.

He said that in these circumstances a juror could be in contempt of court and face jail.

Mr Justice Saunders told the jury that actors and politicians may write blogs and tweets expressing their views about subjects that fall into their area of expertise but also on "matters on which they know very little".

He told the panel: "I very much hope that they will not do so during the trial and they may well be breaking the law if they do do so. They will be uninformed views, do not read them."

The Attorney General's Office tweeted: "Private Eye front cover has been brought to our attention, but AG has decided proceedings for a potential contempt of court aren't required."

Corrupt payments

Ms Brooks was editor of the newspaper between 2000 and 2003 before being made editor of The Sun. She went on to become the chief executive of News International.

It is alleged that she conspired with others at the newspaper to intercept communications between October 2000 and August 2006 by listening to mobile phone messages.

Image caption Rebekah Brooks was editor of the News of the World between 2000 and 2003

She faces two further counts of allegedly making corrupt payments to public officials and two final accusations that she allegedly conspired to pervert the course of justice by removing and concealing evidence.

Mr Coulson faces the same alleged phone-hacking charge as Ms Brooks. He and Clive Goodman, the newspaper’s former royal editor, face two counts of conspiring to make corrupt payments to public officials.

Ian Edmondson and Stuart Kuttner, the newspaper’s former head of news and managing editor respectively, are also accused of involvement in the same alleged phone hacking.

The final three defendants are Ms Brooks’s husband, Charlie, her former personal assistant at News International. Cheryl Carter, and Mark Hanna, the company’s head of security.

They are accused alongside Ms Brooks of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.