THE DUBLIN DISTRICT Family Court has prevented the media from publishing details relating to a specific childcare case.
An application by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was submitted on Tuesday seeking an extension to an order which was granted on 22 February 2016.
This was the first time the DPP made such an application under the law which allows journalists to report on cases in the family courts.
For a number of years, family courts were shrouded in mystery. Only judges, lawyers and the families affected were allowed to attend.
Three years ago, the then-Minister for Justice Alan Shatter changed the law to allow journalists attend and report on proceedings (with strict regulations about anonymity). With the introduction of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 the public got an insight into what happened behind these previously shut doors.
However included in this law is a provision that allows the court to restrict or prohibit the publication or broadcasting of evidence given or referred to during the proceedings, if the court deems it necessary.
Application for extension
This week the DPP sought to extend the order which prevented reporting until a decision had been made whether or not to prosecute individuals involved in the case.
The application was supported by the gardai and the Child and Family Agency. Lawyers representing The Irish Times newspaper were seeking the restrictions to be lifted.
Judge Brendan Toale said: “It is a balancing exercise each time this comes before the court.”
He said there were a “number of interests at play in relation to this application”, stating there is a “public interest” in the publication of family court proceedings to inspire confidence in the administration of the justice system in Ireland.
However, he said this had to be balanced with children’s rights to successful prosecution.
Judge Toale said on previous occasions the DPP said reporting on the case might be prejudicial to any criminal proceedings and and could impact on a jury member, hindering the right to a fair trial.
He also said any dissemination of information relating to the case would raise the possibility that any people accused in the case may intimidate or coerce witnesses. “There might be a danger of that happening,” he said.
Risk of prejudice
These were arguments put forward by the DPP in submissions which asked the court to assess the risk of prejudice to any future case that might be brought.
Acting on behalf of the DPP, Anne-Marie Lawlor BL said the right to a fair trial takes precedent over the right for the media to publish.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the Irish Times said any curtailment of the legislation allowing for the publication of family court proceedings could have “far reaching repercussions”.
Relying on those submissions by the DPP, Judge Toale said the interest of balance favours the restrictions to be extended.
Judge Toale said he would continue to require updates on the progress of the investigation.
He made an order prohibiting publication of the case until the end of October. The DPP can then return to the Dublin District Court if another extension of the order is sought.