Wednesday 22 May 2019

Former chief justice John Murray to carry out GSOC review

Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Former chief justice John Murray has been appointed to carry out a review of the law that allows bodies such as GSOC access the phone records of journalists.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has announced that Mr Murray will be given up to three months to compile a report on international best practice in the area.

She said the free press “plays a pre-eminent role in any democratic society” and it is of fundamental importance that journalists should “be able to carry out their legitimate work unhindered”.

The controversy arose after it emerged that the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) obtained the phone records of two journalists following a complaint from an associate of the late model Katy French.

Civil rights groups and the National Union of Journalists have strongly criticised legislation which dates from 2011 and gives GSOC the power to access such records without informing the journalists.

Ms Fitzgerald said the issue is “complex” because there needs to be a balance between the freedom of journalists to do their work and the need for crimes to be investigated.

The terms of reference of the review are: “To examine the legislative framework in respect of access by statutory bodies to communications data of journalists held by communications service providers, taking into account, the principle of protection of journalistic sources, the need for statutory bodies with investigative and/or prosecution powers to have access to data in order to prevent and detect serious crime, and current best international practice in this area.”

Mr Justice Murray was Attorney General for a period in 1982 and again from 1987 to 1991.

He also served as a judge of the Court of Justice of the European Communities in Luxembourg from 1991 to 1999. He was Chief Justice from 2004 to 2011.

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