One striking aspect of the trial of Rebekah Brooks and her co-defendants at the Old Bailey is that, for all the wig wearing lawyers and 19th century costumes, it is very much a 21st century event. Often in court everyone seems to be looking at a screen.
The accused sit in the glass fronted dock with their tablets and phones typing away, and the judge makes notes on his laptop while the plasma TV\’s on the court walls display the latest evidence. In the press room downstairs most of us are online while typing notes and watching a screen displaying the video feed of the court proceedings. When a witness testified from America we watched a video camera pointed at a video screen and tweeted it live. Meanwhile, the court artist still had to go outside and draw her pictures from memory.
Much of this case hinges on emails – millions upon millions of them. It\’s not a complete record; in 2011, News International began a process of deleting all email archives but, luckily for the prosecution, backups of some of them were held by the company tasked with wiping the records. The Crown also secured emails stored by solicitors Harbottle and Lewis and defendant Clive Goodman. More were recovered from computers seized by police from Rebekah and Charlie Brooks\’ London flat in 2011. Without these records it is possible that this trial may never have happened. As one police officer told the court, the emails give the \”context\” the prosecution are relying on to prove their charges of conspiracy.
So, the court stares at screens while the lawyers discuss how to interpret Andy Coulson emailing a journalist with the pithy: \”Do his phone.\” Does Brooks\’ replying \”fine\” to an email mean she has read it? That\’s for the jury to decide.