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Public will get better access to documents of courts

THE public will be given better access to court documents under plans being considered by the Government.

Ireland is unique among countries with a common law system as it does not provide access to court documents.

Members of the public, as well as the media, have no way of securing access to documents, including court statements and legal submissions, that are opened and relied on in legal proceedings.

This is in stark contrast to the United States, where court documents are electronically filed and available to view and for purchase by the public.

In England and Wales, as well as New Zealand and Canada, procedures are in also place to allow the public request access to court papers.

Former Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan warned 10 years ago that justice needed to be done in public.

Common law

"When sworn affidavits of evidence were not read in court it meant that basically no one other than the parties had any idea what was going on," Judge Finnegan said. He added that affidavits read privately by judges and lawyers should be treated as if read in open court and made available to the press.

The lack of access to court files has been raised in submissions to amend the forthcoming Legal Services Regulation Bill.

It has also been raised by the Competition Authority in discussions with the Department of Justice.

The department said: "The matter is being considered as part of the deliberative process in preparing the Bill for committee stage.

"We will be considering the issue in all its aspects, including from the perspective of the courts and that of other stakeholders."

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