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Report on access to journalists' phones in Katy French probe still not ready to be published

It has been 16 months since a review of legislation allowing State bodies to access phone records began.

Image: smartphone image via Shutterstock

SIXTEEN MONTHS AFTER a review was launched, the Department of Justice has said it is still not ready to publish a report on legislation which allowed journalists’ phone records to be accessed.

Former Chief Justice John Murray was appointed in January last year to carry out a review of the law after it emerged the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) had accessed records of two reporters following a complaint from a friend of the late Katy French. He had alleged information about the model’s case had been leaked to the media by gardaí.

There was concern about the ease with which the ombudsman and other agencies like An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces could access this kind of information under current legislation.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald said at the time that while bodies investigating crime need to have the appropriate powers available to them, that had to be balanced with legitimate journalistic activity carried out in the public interest.

She said she expected the review, which covered all bodies that can access records under the Data Retention Act, to be completed in three months. However, it was not until 27 April this year that the minister received the completed report from Justice Murray.

When asked about the 13 month delay in the completion of the report, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice “that would be an issue for the judge”.

They said the report had been sent to the Attorney General for her consideration so it can then be brought to government and finally published.

The spokesperson said it had not yet come back from the Attorney General and they had no update on an expected publication date.

Secretary of the National of Union of Journalists (NUJ) Seamus Dooley said the union is “extremely disappointed at the manner in which this issue has dragged on”.

“We welcomed the review at the time and particularly welcomed the assurance the minister gave that it would be given priority,” he told TheJournal.ie.

He said the NUJ wrote to the minister on 10 February this year outlining the “urgent” need for this report to be published. The letter referenced the terms of reference of the Disclosures Tribunal into whistleblower treatment.

There is a specific mention in theses terms to the media and to RTÉ in particular and Dooley said this report is relevant to proceedings as Justice Murray was tasked with examining best practice regarding the protection of confidential sources.

Dooley said the union has yet to receive a response from the minister.

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