23 March 2018
The media scrum (pictured) outside the ‘Old Bailey' Central Criminal Court (and opposite Withers' London office) on Monday 28 October 2013 marks the start of the phone-hacking trials and a new stage in a scandal that has grown progressively larger since 2007 and has never been far from the headlines since 2011. Eight defendants currently stand trial for the next 40 days or so on a total of seven charges. These include the offences of unlawful interception of public communications (the alleged ‘phone-hacking') and perverting the course of justice. This is the first criminal trial of senior editors at News International. The unprecedented media coverage of the scandal and the resultant vilification of a number of the main defendants has left an arduous task for the trial judge Mr Justice Saunders in ensuring a fair trial is held. On Tuesday, the judge even resorted to holding up a copy of Private Eye – its cover picture depicting Rebecca Brooks as a witch — referring to it as the type of information that must be ignored by the jurors in the coming weeks when reaching any verdict. The witch-analogy is poignant, as a ‘witch-hunt' is precisely the type of justice that the judge wants to avoid. With the intense media scrutiny to which this trial has already been subjected, Mr Justice Saunders' assessment that British Justice itself is on trial seems to be reasonable. The importance of ensuring that justice can done through jury trials is an ever increasing challenge as technology develops, news and commentary become ever more accessible and potentially prejudicial information becomes harder for jurors to avoid. Trials of this nature test the ability of juries to deliver justice and demonstrate the acute challenges that this ancient form of delivering justice faces in this day and age.