Trial of the century: Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the dock

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are finally going to have their day in court, as the most significant legal battle to hit British politics in a generation begins at the Old Bailey.

Coverage of the phone-hacking allegations has been subdued in the British press due to concerns about prejudicing the trial, but with the case coming before court in front of the international media it is now expected to dominate the front pages once again.

The trial, which will take several months, today saw the jury selection process take place.

Speaking to potential jurors, the judge said: "This is an important case and we have to find a jury able to try it."

They were warned that it was the "sort of case where people have a lot of views".

Coulson and Brooks arrived in court an hour ahead of time, with dozens of photographers and cameramen packing the pavement outside.

Original estimates suggested the trial would take four months, but barristers have said they will need extra time after it emerged at least 100 witnesses would be called.

About 25 barristers will be present, with at least one solicitor for each of the eight defendants. There is space in the court room for 17 reporters, with an overspill TV room for a further 53.

The media interest is particularly fierce among UK, US and Australian journalists, in a reflection of Rupert Murdoch's major media holdings, but news outlets across the world are arriving at the court.

That presents a challenge for court authorities, who have to hold foreign journalists to the strict terms of British contempt of court rules banning anything other than accurate court reporting during the course of the trial.

Solicitor general Oliver Heald has written to the three main parties and the Speakers of the Commons asking them to refrain from any comment during the course of the trial.

Brooks, former editor of the News of the World, the Sun and News International chief executive, is accused of conspiring with others to listen to voicemails and conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.

She is alleged to have conspired with others at the News of the World to intercept communications between October 2000 and August 2006 by listening to mobile phone messages.

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

Coulson faces the same charges on phone-hacking and two counts of conspiring to make payments to public officials, as does Clive Goodman, the newspaper's royal editor.

Ian Edmondson and Stuart Kuttner, the newspaper's former head of news and managing editor, also face phone-hacking allegations.

Charlie Brooks, Rebekah's husband, Cheryl Carter, her personal assistant at News International, and Mark Hanna, the firm's security head, are also accused of perverting the course of justice.