Jobstown trial: Charlie Flanagan to consider review of contempt laws

Minister for Justice says ‘issues raised around the trial which are source of concern’

Solidarity supporters, including TD Ruth Coppinger, posted video and messages during the course of the trial.  Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Solidarity supporters, including TD Ruth Coppinger, posted video and messages during the course of the trial. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said he is keen to review Irish contempt laws in light of the extensive use of social media by supporters of the six men who were acquitted of falsely imprisoning former tánaiste Joan Burton in Jobstown.

Mr Flanagan said the case had concluded and he respected the decision taken but said that material published on social media in the run-up, and during, the trial raised concerns.

“There are issues raised around the trial which are a source of concern,” Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times.

Solidarity supporters, including TD Ruth Coppinger, posted video and messages during the course of the trial, many criticising the prosecution, or making critical comments on witnesses and evidence. Another Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, who was one of the defendants, also retweeted sympathetic tweets.

Under the Jobstown Not Guilty banners, supporters also picketed the courts, organised rallies, distributed pamphlets and had a website that claimed the trial was political and it was a “trumped-up investigation.”

Drafting Bill

Over the weekend, Mr Flanagan’s Fine Gael colleague Josepha Madigan said she is considering drafting a private members’ Bill.

Yesterday, Mr Flanagan signalled he may modernise the contempt laws to address issues that have come up.

“It is essential that courts are able to operate independently and efficiently,” he said.

“Expressly the court must always operate without any undue influence or without any form of duress,” he said.

He said that the Law Reform Commission had made recommendations over 20 years ago that had not been acted upon. Last year, the commission had revisited the issue with an issues paper.

“That document from last year was particularly useful when it posed the question would it be possible for a court to ensure certain material be removed from a website or social media if it was deemed to be prejudicial,” he said.

“I would be keen to review this area. It would be timely to place our contempt law on a statuary footing to distinguish between criminal and civil contempt.”

He said any changes must happen against a backdrop of freedom of expression which was an important right. However, he added the right was not absolute and had to be balanced against other rights.

“The right to a fair trial is fundamental and I’m keen to have this area of law looked at and engage with the commission,” he said.