New court rules were introduced on 1 August 2018 in all courts which will allow the media access to certain court records.

The rules give effect to Section 159 (7) of the newly enacted Data Protection Act 2018 to facilitate fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings.

WHAT INFORMATION CAN BE ACCESSED?

The new rules apply to any documentation which is presented to the judge at the hearing (“opened”) or which is read by the judge in his or her chambers (“deemed to be opened”).

WHO CAN ACCESS THE DOCUMENTS?

Access will be permitted for bone fide members of the media. This will include members of the media who hold any of the following:

  • 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 Broadcasting Authority of Ireland
  • a card issued by the International Federation of Journalists
  • other documentary evidence, such as a letter from a publisher or editor recognised by the Courts Service Media Relations Office as a bone fide member of the media

HOW CAN DOCUMENTS BE ACCESSED?

Disclosure of the documents to bone fide member of the media will be permitted through: 

  • inspection of the documents under supervision of designated persons such as a member of staff of the Courts Service
  • provision of a copy of the document, provided an undertaking is given to return the copy on completion of the media report
  • provision of a press release or provision of other information in oral or written form

RESTRICTIONS ON THE NEW RULES

The Rules apply to proceedings commenced on or after 1 August 2018 and do not have retrospective effect. The rules do not apply to any document which has not been opened or is not deemed to have been opened in Court. The rules do not effect media restriction on the reporting of matters subject to the in camera rule or pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967.

EFFECT OF THE NEW RULES

Prior to the introduction of the new rules, only the plaintiff or defendant who were directly involved in the proceedings were entitled to access court documents. The new rules provide a legal basis for reporters to obtain information to enable them to accurately report on court proceedings.

The Courts Service has described the changes as a “transparent measure, supporting the role of an independent court system in our democracy, while respecting both the restrictions, which apply to certain categories of court proceedings, and the control, which a court exercises over proceedings before it”. While this rule is a significant development in facilitating media access to court records, clear guidance will be required on how the rules should operate in practice.