Book review: Beyond contempt: the inside story of the phone hacking trial

Author: Peter Jukes
Illustrator: Martin Rowson
Publisher: Canbury 

Press Date: April 2015
ISBN -13: 978-0993040719
Price: £9.99

Open justice is getting harder to protect. Today if you wish to go into a criminal court to watch a significant trial there are very sensible security precautions imposed by the Court Service to stop bombs and terrorist actions. You need to identify yourself and explain why you wish to view the trial. You cannot take mobile communications devices (including laptops) into the courtroom. Only lawyers who are directly involved in the proceedings are allowed to bring in such devices – unless the judge says otherwise.

In October 2013 a brave decision was taken by Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge at the Phone Hacking Trial. In his opening remarks at the Old Bailey, he said that “not only are the defendants on trial, but British justice is on trial.” And because of his belief in open justice he then allowed a professional journalist, Peter Jukes, to “live tweet” the trial. Jukes raised the funds he needed to cover the trial by “crowdfunding” on the Indiegogo website – just a few thousand pounds to cover his bare living expenses.

It could so easily have gone wrong. Instead it succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest hopes. By the end of the trial thousands of people across the whole world were following the accurate, yet concise, reportage of the trial of the century. Jukes’ “tweets” in the age of social media showed the world British criminal justice in action.

This book, based on the half a million words tweeted during the trial, is a gripping reasoned account of the Hacking Trial. Anyone wishing to become a courtroom lawyer in the 21st Century should read it. You get to understand the skill and ability of our top criminal Silks in crossexamination. You understand how the evidence pointed in specific directions and hence why Rebekah was found not guilty (and Coulson guilty). And you learn why live tweeting a criminal trial by a responsible journalist could be one of the best ways of preserving the judicial process.

Reviewer: Alistair Kelman

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