High Court to hear INM inspectors application on July 10th

ODCE is applying to appoint inspectors to investigate data breaches at media group

The ODCE wants inspectors to investigate an alleged data breach at INM. Photograph: Frank Miller

The ODCE wants inspectors to investigate an alleged data breach at INM. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The president of the High Court has fixed July 10th to hear the State corporate watchdog’s application to have inspectors appointed to investigate an alleged data breach and other issues at Independent News & Media. The hearing is expected to last up to three days.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly fixed the date when dealing today with various case-management issues.

He was told agreement had been reached for the Central Bank to be provided with documents in the case arising from its statutory obligations in relation to policing Market Abuse Regulations.

Neil Steen SC, for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), also said there had been media reports that INM had issued proceedings against its former chairman Leslie Buckley, and his side wished to see documents in that regard.

Shane Murphy SC, for INM, said that matter would be addressed in his side’s affidavits.

The application by the Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan for inspectors follows a year-long investigation by his office into certain issues at INM.

That investigation was prompted by protected disclosures made on dates in 2016 and 2017 by former INM chief executive Robert Pitt and INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston.

Range of issues

Mr Drennan said he wanted inspectors to investigate a range of issues including an alleged data breach at INM over some months from October 2014; a proposed purchase by INM of Newstalk Radio from Communicorp, a company of INM’s major shareholder, Denis O’Brien; and a proposed fee payment by INM to Island Capital, a company also linked to Mr O’Brien. Neither the purchase nor payment proceeded.

Mr Drennan said the range of “potentially unlawful conduct” that may have taken place within INM is “extensive” and an inspectors’ investigation was necessary for reasons including to establish whether journalists’ emails or other data was accessed over a period from October 2014, by whom, for what purpose, and whether Mr O’Brien benefited from that.

Last week, another High Court judge, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, dismissed INM’s judicial review proceedings aimed at quashing the decision by the ODCE to seek inspectors. INM’s fundamental proposition it had a right to be consulted before legal proceedings are instituted by a public body was “novel and without precedent” and, as a matter of law, “cannot be sustained”, he ruled.

The ODCE application then returned on Wednesday before Mr Justice Kelly for case management.

The judge was told by Mr Murphy, for INM, that agreement had been reached between the ODCE and INM for the Central Bank to access certain material filed for the inspectors’ application and the judicial review.

Agreement

Mr Justice Kelly, who observed the Central Bank’s concerns related to Market Abuse Regulations, said he noted the agreement on the provision of information relevant to its concerns. This involved the bank’s obligations to police the regulations and that the documents were to be provided within 48 hours, he noted. Should there be any difficulty, the sides had liberty to apply.

It was not necessary for the Central Bank to apply to the court for leave to use the documents provided if it considered that was necessary for carrying out its statutory functions in relation to the Market Abuse regulations, he directed.

Arrangements were previously made to provide access to documents to several others, including journalist Sam Smyth, who is among 19 people concerned their data may have been accessed by third parties.

Also on Wednesday, Paul Gallagher SC, for INM, said his side wanted until June 15th to file more affidavits and asked for a hearing date of July 10th. Mr Steen said that date was suitable from the ODCE perspective and he hoped there would be no need for his side to file further affidavits.

The judge noted voluminous affidavits had been provided to date, some of which were longer than any he had previously encountered.