Courts Service defends new photography restrictions

 

THE COURTS Service, responsible for administrative matters in the judicial system, has defended new restrictions on the media’s ability to take photographs.

Media photographs of convicted prisoners and others in custody may become a thing of the past as new procedures are implemented in the State’s courthouses.

All but three or four courthouses have been refurbished or replaced to provide secure access for prisoners, away from the public glare, according to the Courts Service.

Neither the Prison Service nor the Garda Síochána say they have any plans to issue mugshots or other photographs of convicted prisoners.

Since the opening of the new Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin late last year, which handles the vast majority of serious criminal trials, almost all prisoners in the State are transported to and from court away from the attentions of the media.

There was controversy last week over the decision by gardaí to escort a witness in the Eamonn Lillis murder trial, Jean Treacy, through a secure entrance of the new Criminal Courts of Justice, thus ensuring press photographers could not take her picture.

Separately, however, the opportunity for photographers to take a picture of convicted prisoners has disappeared since trials were moved from the Four Courts. This remains possible only at courthouses which have not yet been refurbished, such as Wexford, Kilkenny or Tralee.

The situation has caused some surprise in the media but the Courts Service says the changes were flagged long in advance. A spokesman said its stance was in line with court judgments, international conventions and prison rules.

In 2000, in the Court of Criminal Appeal, in the DPP and Stephen Davis, it was argued that photographs of the defendant entering or leaving court handcuffed to a prison officer were prejudicial.

The court, while refusing to quash the murder conviction, was highly critical of the practice.

In its judgment the court said photographs of people in handcuffs humiliated them and could amount to a contempt of court.

“The dignity of the individual, and the perception that he is a participant in judicial proceedings with specific rights, and on a footing of equality with other participants, is inconsistent with his appearing there chained, manacled, handcuffed and chained, or otherwise manifestly restrained.”

While the judgment expressed the view that the difficulties in preventing photographs at the Four Courts were not insuperable, nothing changed until criminal cases were moved to the new complex last month.

European and Irish prison rules say prisoners should be exposed to public view “as little as possible” when being transported.

A spokesman for the Prison Service ruled out the release of official mugshots, saying its rules prevented the disclosure of any information relating to a prisoner “except where such disclosure is necessary in the performance of official duty or in the interests of justice”.

The Garda press office also said it had no plans to provide photographs to the media.