On Wednesday 1 August 2018, new court rules will come into operation in both the civil and criminal courts to facilitate fair and accurate reporting of court hearings by formalising the media’s access to information.
From 1 August 2018, the Central Office may give bona fide members of the media access to information and documentation that is either opened (presented), or deemed to have been opened, in court. The new rules, which will apply in both civil and criminal cases, are being introduced under the Data Protection Act 2018.
The Courts Service has issued a working definition of what constitutes a bona fide member of the media and two categories of individual come within it:
- members of the press (including online media) who hold a National Press Card issued by the National Union of Journalists, a card demonstrating employment by a member of the Press Council of Ireland or the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, or an International Federation of Journalists Press Card;
- people who do not hold any such card but who, based on a letter signed by their publisher or editor-in-chief, are recognised by the Courts Service Media Relations Office as bona fide members of the media.
Disclosure will be by:
- allowing supervised inspection of the document,
- provision of a copy of the document on receipt of an undertaking that it will be returned following reporting, or
- provision of a press release or other provision of information in oral or written form.
Importantly, the new rules do not in any way displace existing legal restrictions on reporting of in camera or private hearings and will operate subject to any order or direction made by a court in any specific case.
The rules will only apply to proceedings commenced on or after 1 August 2018 and will not apply retrospectively to cases already in being or concluded.
This is a significant development in formally facilitating media access to court records, which has been a point of contention for the media and for parties to litigation. As regards the scope of the new rules, it is to be hoped that clear guidance will be given on when information will be deemed to have been opened and we await the promised guidelines with interest.
This briefing is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.