From 1st August 2018, the media will have access to documents opened in an Irish court. This is a welcomed development for the media and has been implemented to facilitate the fair and accurate reporting of court hearings.
These measures, which apply to both civil and criminal courts are being introduced under the Data Protection Act, 2018. The Courts Service is expected to publish guidelines on this new right of access before the beginning of the new legal term in October. The new guidelines will provide a clear legal basis as to what information is accessible to bona fide members of the media.
Parties should be aware that this potentially means that documents filed in proceedings which might make reference to commercially sensitive and/or confidential information may be accessed by the media even if the content is not read out in court. A document may be taken to have been opened to the court where, for example, reference is made in court to relevant passages from the document and some passages are read in part or in full, or where the Judge has read the document in advance and has indicated that s/he is treating it as having been opened in court.
A bona fide member of the media with media accreditation can make a request to an officer of the Courts Service to disclose information, including personal data contained in a court record for the purpose of facilitating the fair and accurate reporting of a hearing in the proceedings to which it relates. If granted, disclosure can be made either by allowing supervised inspection of the document, provision of a copy of the document on receipt of an undertaking that it will be returned following reporting, or provision of a press release or other information in oral or written form.
The changes outlined above are in contrast to the previous position where only information openly available in court was allowed to be the subject of media reporting. The new rules will only apply to proceedings commenced on or after 1st August 2018, and will not apply retrospectively to cases already in being or concluded.