Since last Monday, 13 January 2014, journalists and the media are now entitled to attend at Family Law proceedings in Ireland. The new law was passed by the Government last July and last Sunday night, 12 January 2014, the Department of Justice announced that the law would begin (with immediate effect).
Under the new legislation the media are now allowed to attend hearings and report on those hearings provided they do not identify any of the parties who are involved in those proceedings. This is to protect the identity and the sensitivity of the information being disclosed in Court. In certain circumstances, a Judge however has the right under the legislation to decide to exclude the press or to impose restrictions on what the press can report on in the Family Law Courts. For instance, if a Judge was hearing a case and felt that some part of the case or the evidence being heard was commercially sensitive, he could direct, of his own volition or after application on behalf of the representative of either party, to omit certain parts of evidence from reporting.
The idea of the legislation is to shed some light on proceedings that had up until now been for the most part unknown. The reporting of Family Law cases will provide very interesting information in relation to the types of cases that are coming before the Courts in relation to Family Law on a day to day basis.
Undoubtedly there will be multiple applications by Solicitors and Barristers on behalf of their clients to have the media excluded and this is understandable as certain specific facts of certain cases may lead to the parties to those proceedings being recognised, even though they remain anonymous in any newspaper reports.
However, in the public interest it would appear that it is safe to say that this new legislation will open up the public eyes to the goings on behind the previously closed doors to Family Law proceedings and it must be welcomed if it gives the public at large a greater understanding of what Family Law proceedings involve for the people who have to go through the various court cases and applications.
By Maurice O’Connor