Attorney General calls for review of defamation laws

Court reporters should not fear litigation due to a ‘simple oversight, omission or error’

Attorney General Máire Whelan: has called for a review of defamation law to  ensure better protection of court reporters who perform an ‘important public service’. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Attorney General Máire Whelan: has called for a review of defamation law to ensure better protection of court reporters who perform an ‘important public service’. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The Attorney General has called for a review of the defamation laws to ensure better protection of court reporters who perform an “important public service” and one of the “most challenging assignments in journalism”.

Attorney Máire Whelan told a large gathering of judges and lawyers at the Four Courts on Friday she believes reform of the defamation laws was necessary to avoid a “chilling” impact on the level and quality of court reporting people in Ireland “expect, and enjoy.”.

The Constitution requires that justice be administered in public save in exceptional circumstances and those reporting court proceedings are performing an important public service, she said.

They should not have to fear a “simple oversight, omission or error” in reporting court proceedings exposes them to risks of litigation, or claims in damages, with consequent risks to their livelihood.

There should be at least a debate, and consideration, of enshrining into Irish law a provision that no report of court proceedings should be actionable in defamation unless there is proof of “malice”, the Ms Whelan said.

Consideration should be given to requiring those who seek to sue over court reports to get leave of the courts to do so and to demonstrate, in sworn documents, the bad faith alleged, she said.

The Attorney made the comments during her tribute to the outgoing President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, at a ceremony in court four to mark his last day on the bench.

It was a tribute to Mr Justice Kearns he has always been supportive of, and helpful towards, court reporters and journalists and willing to assist them in the important public service they provide in promptly reporting court proceedings accurately, she said.

Article 34.1 of the Constitution provides”. . save in special and limited circumstances as may be prescribed be law . . justice shall be administered in public”, she noted.

“Court reporters by their work execute this important constitutional value and thereby serve the public interest.”

“One of the most challenging assignments in journalism in the State must be that of court reporter; subject to very tight deadlines, endeavouring to assimilate complex and involved details and present them in a clear, accessible and coherent fashion whilst getting names and titles correct.”

The time has come to review our laws of defamation “to ensure the public interest is fully served and the values and aspirations enshrined in Article 34.1 are not debased or compromised, or diluted, by fears of concerns on the part of any journalist or court reporter that a simple oversight, omission or error in reporting court proceedings exposes them to risks of litigation, or claims in damages, thereby risking their livelihood with the trauma and attendant uncertainty, and stress, pending conclusion of such claims.”