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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 19:40 GMT
Packed courtroom for Diana hearing
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News, at the High Court

It was only the first of many preliminary hearings into how the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed will be conducted.

But judging by the banks of TV cameras at the entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and the massed ranks of journalists scribbling inside, there is still intense media interest in anything related to the princess's death.

Media outside the High Court
Media interest in all things to do with Diana is still high
The hearing at the court, an imposing gothic building on the Strand, was to consider issues of jurisdiction and procedure governing the inquests.

Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the coroner who was conducting the hearing, said she wanted it to be "relatively informal" despite the grandeur of the wood-panelled, book-lined courtroom - and it was.

There were no wigs, gowns or grand ceremony, just lawyers standing within rows of wooden benches facing Lady Butler-Sloss, calmly putting their points.

On the front benches sat lone representatives of the families of Diana and Dodi - Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, in pale green, and on the other side of the aisle, Dodi's father Mohamed Al Fayed, in grey. They listened intently, in silence.

Behind them were lawyers - and behind them, rows and rows of journalists from tabloids, broadsheets, TV and even the international media.

That's one decision I can make today. I think it entirely inappropriate for me to ask for a jury from the royal household
Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss

Throughout, Lady Butler-Sloss made it clear that her overriding concern lay with the bereaved, and with surviving victim Trevor Rees, Diana's former bodyguard.

She opened the hearing with a message of sympathy for relatives and friends of those who died.

She worried about whether she could refer to "Dodi" rather than "Mr Al Fayed" without upsetting his father.

She assured the counsel for Mr Rees that she bore in mind at all times his situation as the sole surviving victim.

And towards the end of the day's proceedings she was worried about whether Lady Sarah McCorquodale would be able to cope with any further legal discussions.

Lady Sarah McCorquodale
Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale attended the hearing

But the bulk of the day was taken up with fairly technical and complex legal discussions.

There were, for example, lengthy submissions over whether the original coroner Dr John Burton, who has since died, was correct in transferring jurisdiction from himself as the Coroner of West London, to himself as Coroner of the Queen's Household.

There were also several calls for the inquest to be heard by a jury, with lawyers citing the importance of justice being seen to be done, and of avoiding any "appearance of bias".

Practical worries

Some debate which had been expected - for instance, over whether any such jury should consist of members of the royal household, rather than ordinary members of the public - barely materialised, after the Queen's lawyer agreed that an ordinary jury would be preferable and Lady Butler-Sloss agreed.

Lady Butler-Sloss also had practical concerns about how an inquest with a jury would work.

Mohamed Al Fayed
Dodi's father Mohamed Al Fayed was also present in the morning
What about the expected 40 witnesses, many of whom were French and would need interpreters and video links?

Could a jury cope with all the documentary evidence - 15 volumes alone have been generated by the French inquiry?

And where in Surrey could they sit?

Lady Butler-Sloss said most of her decisions would not be reached immediately. And the inquests are unlikely to get going properly until early May.

So one thing is abundantly clear - that nearly 10 years after Diana and Dodi died in a car crash in Paris, the scrutiny over what caused that fatal crash is a long, long way from being over.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Family members arrive at court for the hearing



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