Court dismisses application to have newspaper editors jailed

Fri, Mar 16, 2012, 00:00

THE HIGH Court has dismissed an application to have the editors of two daily newspapers and two others jailed for alleged contempt of court.

Patrick Kelly (33), Deansrath Avenue, Clondalkin, Dublin,claimed he was entitled to orders jailing the editors and journalists and seizing the assets of the newspapers, on grounds of articles published in July 2011 relating to court proceedings brought by him. The newspapers denied his claims.

That ruling arose out of proceedings, yet to be decided, brought by Mr Kelly against University College Dublin after he was refused entry in 2002 to the UCD social science master’s degree course.

Mr Kelly made a complaint on sexual discrimination grounds to the Equality Tribunal in 2002 after he was refused a place on the UCD course. The tribunal dismissed his complaint in 2006 after which he brought High Court proceedings.

As part of those proceedings, he sought unredacted information from UCD relating to the qualifications of candidates selected to take part in the course. He claims he was more qualified than at least one of the female candidates selected. UCD refused to provide that information on the basis it was confidential.

When the matter came before the High Court in 2011, several questions arising out of the case were referred to the European Court of Justice. The European court issued its determination last July and, the following day, the Irish Independent and The Irish Times published articles about that ruling. Mr Kelly alleged those articles amounted to contempt.

Yesterday, Mr Justice John Hedigan dismissed the application after finding the articles published could not prejudice Mr Kelly’s High Court action.

The judge said Mr Kelly claimed the reports stated the European court had found against him and he lost his case. Mr Kelly had argued the articles were untrue, unfair to him and misrepresented the European court decision, which answered questions of law put to it by the High Court.

The judge said Mr Kelly’s real complaint in this application was understandably about the public perception of him and his case after it was reported that he had lost.

Mr Kelly complained to both newspapers about the articles but was unhappy with their responses, including the publication of a clarification by The Irish Times and the offer of a publication by the Irish Independent. Mr Kelly subsequently made complaints to the Press Ombudsman, the judge said.

The judge said reporting on court cases can be difficult and it was inevitable journalists may get it wrong. There was an onus on the press to do all it can to ensure reports are accurate and right.

In this instance, Mr Kelly claimed the press had done much more than get it wrong and had been in criminal contempt of court.

However, the judge said, he was satisfied the articles complained of were not in contempt of court and in no way impeded or prejudiced the administration of justice.

Any judge hearing Mr Kelly’s case against UCD would not be influenced by any press publications of the European court’s ruling, the judge said. Such reports would not be taken into account and he was satisfied there was “no risk” the sitting judge would be prejudiced against Mr Kelly by the articles in question.

The judge also awarded the newspapers their costs of the motions against Mr Kelly.