If the Oireachtas is to be asked to rule on in-camera proceedings it must first be enabled to examine them
Opinion: At the moment deputies are prohibited from hearing what happens behind closed doors
Mary O’Rourke: A TD has no more entitlement to be told what goes on in a family law court than does a reporter or an editor. Photograph: Alan Betson
Due, I believe, to a misunderstanding, several references to the former Fianna Fáil deputy leader Mary O’Rourke were removed, on legal advice, from my column last Friday. I believe my argument was misread as suggesting that Mrs O’Rourke had been involved in an improper attempt to interfere in a family law case. I made no such suggestion.
I noted in my column that an allegation of improper interference, made by Judge Henry Abbott against a judge and a public representative who transpired to be Mrs O’Rourke and Judge Desmond Hogan, had been dealt with by an inquiry conducted by two senior judges – Judge Nicholas Kearns and Judge Raymond Groarke. This inquiry found that Judge Hogan had indeed raised the family law case in question with Judge Abbott, in a conversation lasting less than a minute in the yard of the Four Courts in July 2010. The inquiry concluded that the encounter should not have occurred but had no material effect on the outcome of the case.
Judge Hogan told the investigating judges that he may have asked Judge Abbott “in a casual way” about the case, but had had “no solicitation or request to that end from any politician or from any party involved in or connected with the case in any way”. He said he had had “absolutely no intention” of interfering with the case or influencing its outcome, and deeply regretted that his query had given rise to any such apprehension.
Although both parents involved in the case named her in affidavits, Mary O’Rourke denies making any representations about the case. She does not, however, deny being approached by the mother. What I sought to highlight was that, on her own admission, therefore, Mrs O’Rourke may have committed a technical breach of the in-camera rule.
In-camera hearings are so called because they occur “otherwise than in public”. It’s forbidden to make public any details of any such hearing without the express permission of the presiding judge. I know of one editor of a national newspaper who, having been hauled before a court for breaching the in-camera rule, was informed by the judge that not only had he, the judge, the power to incarcerate the editor for contempt, but furthermore he had the power to prevent the editor’s incarceration being reported. Although judges have wide discretion concerning the extent to which they may permit details of in-camera cases to be publicly ventilated, many judges are known to forbid any details whatever being discussed with external parties, a category which includes public representatives.