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Friday 22 November 2019

Reform will give public access to court documents

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

The judiciary is considering a reform that would facilitate public access to court documents.

The Irish Independent has learned that the Courts Service, which supports the judiciary, is working with the Superior Courts Rules Committee to improve access, by journalists and members of the public, to documents opened in court.

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

And Justice Minister Alan Shatter may also accelerate the process with his planned Legal Services Regulation Bill.

In Ireland, members of the public and the media have no way of securing access to documents, including court statements and legal submissions.

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.

"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," he said in his 2002 ruling.

Irish Independent

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