Jury selection has begun in the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson for charges linked to phone hacking and alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

Former News International chief executive Ms Brooks and ex-government spin doctor Mr Coulson, both 45, appeared at the Old Bailey for the first day of proceedings that could take up to six months.

A panel of around 80 potential jurors was brought into court 12 at around 12.30pm, and whittled down to 33 possible panel members.

They were asked to fill in a questionnaire and given until tomorrow to make sure that they can commit to the full length of the trial.

Mr Justice Saunders told them: "The trial which we are about to start will take a considerable length of time. It is estimated that the case may last until Easter."

Judge Saunders said: "I hope that with the assistance of counsel the case will finish more quickly, but people who sit on it should be prepared for the case to go on that long."

Seats had to be removed from the courtroom to allow the potential jurors to fit into the space.

The judge added: "To sit on a jury for this length of time, five or six months, is a significant disruption in people's lives and we do appreciate that. 

"We do need the assistance of members of the public like you to try this case. It is, as you will hear, an important case and we have to find a jury able to try it."

He told them that jury service "is a public duty and is not voluntary", and added: "It's critical to the jury system ... that a jury takes the case free from any preconceptions. 

"From now on you do not discuss the case with anyone."

Detectives launched an investigation in January 2011 and since then more than 125 people have been arrested and more than 40 charged with offences.             

The most prominent are Mr Coulson and Ms Brooks, a close friend of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Cameron attended her wedding in 2009 along with then-prime minister Gordon Brown.             

Ms Brooks was the first female editor of Rupert Murdoch's top-selling Sun newspaper and had risen to become head of News International, News Corp's British newspaper arm, when the furore over phone hacking arose, led to her resignation.             

Mr Coulson, who quit the News of the World in 2007, had acted as Mr Cameron's communications chief until he too resigned in 2011 saying the issue had become a distraction for the government.

They were both arrested in July 2011 and later charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept communications.            

Ms Brooks is also accused of two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office during her time at The Sun, and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.        

Mr Coulson is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.            

Joining them in the dock accused of some of the charges are Stuart Kuttner, the long-time former managing editor of the News of the World, Nan Edmondson of the same paper, Clive Goodman, former royal editor at the News of the World; Cheryl Carter, Ms Brooks's personal assistant; Ms Brooks's husband Charlie; and Mark Hanna, News International's head of security.

A jury is due to be chosen for the six-month trial with prosecutors expected to outline the case against the accused on Tuesday.      

Dozens of other journalists are due to go on trial next year following the conclusion of this case.

British police are also actively considering bringing corporate charges against Mr Murdoch's British newspaper business.