With the trial of Rebekah Brooks, husband Charlie, Andy Coulson and the rest completing jury selection yesterday, Mr Justice Saunders issued a particularly strong and detailed preamble on the potential for contempt of court. He singled out the front cover of the latest issue of Private Eye magazine, but former Tory MP Louise Mensch, who knows everything about everything, was not listening.
Who's that sitting to your right, Louise?
“Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition... it bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover ... 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” the jury was told.
That was it concerning the Eye, but Ms Mensch, who, it should be remembered, had no problem with not only appearing on Have I Got News For You recently, but also being seated next to Eye editor Ian Hislop, went on the attack, using the weapon she knows best, ignorance. “Why should Private Eye be allowed to prejudice somebody’s criminal trial? Where is the contempt ruling?” she demanded.
Why would there be a contempt ruling against the Eye, when the Judge had done no more than advise the jury to ignore the front cover of the latest issue? Ms Mensch’s ridiculous intervention was then made to look worse as her former colleague Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, ruled that the Eye would not be pursued for contempt. This did not dissuade the former MP for Corby one bit.
Faced with the Attorney General’s decision, she changed tack: “the Judge warned of the dangers of contempt for the jury saying they would be jailed if they read Private Eye”. But Mr Justice Saunders cannot say that someone will face a particular sanction, and so he did not, although a custodial sentence for contempt is available if the offence is judged suitably deserving.
“His instructions ... included not reading Private Eye” (they didn’t), “I am exactly right” (no you’re not), “if they fail to ignore Private Eye, contempt” (wrong again, it’s just the cover and there is no inside story), “if they read blogs by ‘actors’, contempt” (that would depend on the subject of the blog) produced a hail of ridicule mixed with unintentional hilarity, as Ms Mensch clearly began to lose it.
And she wasn’t done yet: “Gratifying to see the Judge order the jury to ignore Private Eye and blogs by ‘actors’ or face contempt” was another mirth-inducing howler. The sucking up to Murdoch is so bad that anyone else would be embarrassed at such behaviour. But this English Language and Literature graduate turned self-appointed legal expert is too shameless and desperate for attention.
All of which means there will be more to come. No surprise there, then.