by Matthew Austin January-05-2024 in Media Law, Commercial & Business

In a recent judgement in the High Court, Mr Justice Garrett Simons confirmed the position on the entitlement of the media to report on court proceedings, and in particular to report on the content of documents in court proceedings.

The Judge stated that aside from exceptions such as family law proceedings or proceedings involving minors, bona fide members of the print and broadcast media are generally entitled to report on anything that is relevant to court proceedings.  This includes documentation that is on the court file, such as, affidavits, exhibits, and pleadings.  The content of such materials can be referred to by the media provided that they are reported fairly and accurately.

The Judge went on to state there is obviously a restriction on any reporting that is sensationalist or unfair, but a member of the print or broadcast media is entitled to report accurately on the content of these types of documents, notwithstanding that they have not been read aloud in open court.  The Judge pointed out that the practice and procedure of the courts has evolved particularly in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  More and more often, the judge hearing an application will have read the papers in advance.  Mr Justice Simons stated that is critical, therefore, that the press who are reporting on the proceedings are entitled to refer to that documentation notwithstanding that it has not been read aloud in court.  It is still part of the court record: the Judge has read it, he or she will be relying on it and the exchanges between the Judge and Counsel will be based on that material.

Mr Justice Simons pointed out that this proposition has already been discussed in some detail in his previous judgement in In Re-Independent News and Media PLC [2020] IEHC 384.  It is also reflected in the rules of the Superior Courts which allow a bona fide member of the press or broadcast media to apply for the disclosure of information contained in the Court record for the purpose of facilitating the fair and accurate reporting of a hearing in the proceedings to which it relates.  The judge pointed out this right applies even to information which represents "personal data" within the meaning of the General Data Protection Regulation.

The Judge went on to state that members of the media are perfectly entitled to report on the content of affidavits which have been read by the Judge in advance of a hearing (unless the proceedings are being heard in camera or the Judge directs otherwise).  He noted that this has a Constitutional underpinning: Article 34.1 of the Constitution of Ireland provides that, save in special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, justice shall be administered in public.

The judgment is useful confirmation of the entitlement of the media to report accurately and fairly on Court proceedings, particularly in the context of an increasing number of Court applications where the relevant documentation will have been read by the presiding Judge in advance and will not necessarily be opened in court and read aloud for all to hear.



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