Friday 18 October 2019

Judge apologises to journalists after gardaí wrongly excluded them from court hearing

Dublin District Court
Dublin District Court
Jane Last

Jane Last

A judge has apologised to journalists after gardaí wrongly excluded them from a court hearing.

Dublin District Court Judge Brian O’Shea personally apologised to Independent News and Media reporter Allison Bray and Irish Times reporter Marie O’Halloran during a special sitting at the Criminal Courts of Justice yesterday. Both journalists were called to attend the court yesterday morning.

He also recommended that gardaí personally apologise to both reporters.

The issue arose when the journalists, along with reporter Barry Hartigan of the Irish Daily Mail, attended a special sitting of the Dublin Children’s Court on St Stephen’s Day to report on the hearing of a 15-year-old boy charged in connection with the assault on a 25-year-old woman in Dun Laoghaire on December 23.

Because the accused is a minor, the hearing was held with limitations on public attendance with restrictions on reporting that could in any way identify him.

However, when the journalists arrived at the Courts of Criminal Justice complex on Parkgate Street, one of them was told by a garda they could not attend the hearing as it was 'in-camera'.

Assuming that the judge had made the order, they complied.

However, after learning afterwards that no such order had been made, they were able to attend the hearing in time to hear the judge’s summation of the case and report on the proceedings.

In his address to the journalists and their legal representatives yesterday, Judge O’Shea said he was completely unaware that the journalists had been excluded from the courtroom and that it was completely unwarranted.

“If I had known that this had taken place outside my courtroom, I would not have tolerated it,” he said.

“I am struggling to get into my head how frustrating it must have been being outside the door and not being allowed in for a story that they had an interest in,” he said.

He added that he was very conscious of the fact that Chief Justice Frank Clarke had stated that there needs to be more openness and transparency in courtrooms, adding that the journalists were entitled to attend the hearing.

He told the journalists that he requested Detective Garda Daniel Treacy, of Dun Laoghaire Garda Station, also attend his court in a bid to clarify what had occurred and who had made the decision to exclude the journalists from attending the hearing.

He said if gardai were to apologise to the journalists, that might be the end of the matter although they could pursue another avenue with the complaint.

The judge stressed that he did not hold Det Gda Treacy in any way responsible for what had happened, but that he might make enquiries as to who excluded the journalists.

Det Gda Treacy said that the issue was about educating gardaí about what was permitted or not.

“Guards don’t know how to deal with the press,” he said. “They are afraid, ‘Do I let them in or not?’”

Judge O'Shea said he reads the Irish Independent and Irish Times every day. In this instance, they did not publish anything that could be deemed as prejudicial to the defendant but favourably reported that the teenage boy had no previous convictions.

Solicitors Kieran Kelly and Joseph O'Malley were there for Independent News & Media and the Irish Times respectively.

Mr Kelly told Judge O'Shea INM were grateful to him for clarifying the position.

He said it was not the first time journalists had been frustrated by being excluded from court incorrectly, and the issue was being explored with Newsbrands and the DPP to examine problems like  these. It sometimes was down to a lack of knowing the law, he said.

Mr O'Malley endorsed what Mr Kelly said, adding the exclusion of the journalists was “entirely unwarranted and inexcusable” and hoped the appropriate person would do the right thing and apologise.

Judge said that even a notice posted outside courtrooms making clear that media were entitled to be present would avoid a reoccurrence.

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