Friday 23 August 2019

€111,000 fine for newspaper over article which led to collapse of rape trial

Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The High Court has imposed a fine of €111,000 over the publication of an article which led to the collapse of a rape trial.

Ms Justice Miriam O'Regan made the order against the publishers of the Irish Independent, who admitted the piece printed last November was in contempt of court.

The judge said the contempt was serious, but accepted there was no intention on the part of the newspaper to interfere in the administration of justice. She imposed the fine on Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd following an application from the DPP.

The article, an analysis piece on the treatment of complainants, was part of a package dealing with the aftermath of the Cork rape trial. That trial came to international attention after the complainant's choice of underwear was referred to by the defence.

The article made reference to an ongoing trial taking place in Dublin and appeared a day after the jury was sent out to deliberate on a verdict.

The court heard the newspaper was unaware the jury was out when the article was published.

In her decision, Ms Justice O'Regan said the jury in the Dublin case was discharged due to "potential contamination" as a result of the article.

The judge said it was a "very serious" matter as it had "a catastrophic effect" on the trial process. She said it was clear from the article that the trial was ongoing and this was "the real significant feature".

Ms Justice O'Regan said in her view what occurred was "an egregious event" and that the headline figure for the fine should be €175,000. However, she significantly discounted this after taking account of a number of mitigating factors.

The judge accepted there was an element of public interest involved and no intention to interfere in the administration of justice.

She noted the remorse and contrition demonstrated by the respondent, the prompt removal of the article from the newspaper's website, an early plea of guilt and an offer to pay the costs of the trial.

Ms Justice O'Regan said the system in place at the time for the review and clearance of articles was "entirely inadequate". However, she noted there was now a systems recheck in place.

While the newspaper took legal advice from Fanning and Kelly Solicitors, and followed it before the article was published, the judge was only prepared to give a slight discount for this. She said statutory reporting restrictions should be known to all journalists and responsibility cannot be offloaded on to a lawyer.

The court heard the costs of the collapsed trial have already been paid by the publisher and that it also offered to cover the costs of the contempt proceedings.

Irish Independent

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