People are often aggrieved that their name appears in the papers when they have been charged with a criminal offence. We often receive complaints from defendants who think it is unfair and an invasion of their privacy.  The question is can the press publish the names and addresses of persons who are before the courts? And if so , can they do it  even before the case has been heard or concluded . The simple answer is yes.

Contrary to popular belief there is no express right to privacy under the Irish Constitution. The Constitution does however provide the basis for this type of reporting.

Article 34 provides that Justice (Subject to certain exceptions) shall be administered in public.

Article 40.6.1.i establishes the right of the citizen to express freely their convictions and opinions and goes on to acknowledge the freedom of the press.

These rights are not however absolute. Certain court cases are held in camera which means in private. Courts will also on occasion place reporting restrictions on the press in cases alleging sexual offences. It should be noted that these restrictions are there to protect the identity of  alleged victims and not alleged perpetrators.

Similarly the press are not permitted simply to print anything they wish . They are restricted by other factors such as the law of defamation .

Broadly speaking  though, if the report is accurate and the case is not protected by specific restrictions , the press can print it provided it is an accurate report of what was said and presented in court. The recent case against Sean Fitzpatrick illustrates the point. He was charged with a number of  charges relating to the activities of Anglo Irish Bank. The trial was conducted in a blaze of publicity and many aspects of his professional and private life were examined in the press. The case was headline news for weeks and Mr Fitzpatrick was ultimately acquitted. While one can be almost certain that all of the publicity was unwelcome , the freedom of the press and the public nature of our courts system takes priority.

It is widely believed that a free press is essential in a democracy. In the United States for example there are much fewer restrictions and a Free Press is considered to be a corner stone of their system of government and culture. .

In this country the libel laws have been relaxed to some extent giving the press greater scope in their reporting. In recent times the press have been given access to family law cases. They are not entitled to name the parties or the location of the case and application can be made to the court to prevent publication at all if it is felt that even a sketch of the facts might identify the parties. This does however illustrate the extent of the right and acknowledgement  of its importance.

Some people are of  the view that reporting on all cases should be restricted until the case is over and even then should only be permissible where the person is convicted. It is easy to understand the logic of this proposition but this is not the law. If a person is charged with a criminal offence he is liable to have his name, address, age and other details of himself and  the allegation published in the press.
 
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PA Dorrian & Co, Main Street, Buncrana, Donegal Tel: 074 93 61331 Email: [email protected]
PA Dorrian & Co, High Road, Letterkenny, Donegal Tel: 074 91 11016 Email: [email protected]

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