Judge grants orders for removal of material about ward of court from internet
Interim measures against Google and Facebook linked to vidoes of court hearings about woman
The Courts Service has obtained interim High Court orders against Google Ireland and Facebook Ireland requiring the removal of certain material posted on social media. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.
The Courts Service has obtained interim High Court orders against Google Ireland and Facebook Ireland requiring the removal of certain material posted on social media, including video recordings of court hearings concerning an elderly woman who is a ward of court.
The Courts Service does not know the identity of who posted the material and claims the posts breach rules preventing any recording of court proceedings as well as orders preventing the identification of the woman as a ward.
The woman’s son has consistently objected to his mother, who has dementia and is her 90s, being in wardship and a nursing home, and he has taken multiple court applications over that.
The videos objected to include one of the son addressing High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly earlier this month in terms which led to the judge leaving the bench after directing gardaí to remove the man for persistent interruption of the court’s work during that and earlier hearings.
The judge directed that the man, who had alleged there is a “constitutional crisis” in the State and that no courts have sat with appropriate jurisdiction since 1924, be detained in Dublin’s Bridewell Garda station until the court hearing concerning his mother had concluded.
A video of the son being “interviewed” by another man outside the Bridewell later that day is among the material objected to.
Donogh Hardiman BL, for the Courts Service, sought orders against Google Ireland and Facebook Ireland arising from the posts.
Following correspondence with the defendants, a substantial amount of the material has been removed or blocked but some remains online and there is concern that more has since been posted and more might follow, counsel said.
The application was made on an ex parte basis (one side only represented) but Rossa Fanning SC, for Facebook Ireland, attended out of courtesy. His client had been co-operative with the Courts Service and was proposing a protocol to address the matter, counsel outlined. Google Ireland was not required to be in court but has engaged with the Courts Service, the judge noted.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly said it seemed “surreptitious” videoing of a court hearing took place and that material had found its way onto social media in alleged breach of court rules and alleged contempt of court.
Another element of the application arose from a “far-reaching” undertaking by given by the woman’s son in May 2017 not to publish material about her after certain posts were removed.
That material included videos of him shouting at his mother in the nursing home and trying to persuade her to take medications to enhance hair growth in her ears, which the son considered to be important to her continued good health, a view not shared by her doctors, the judge said. That video was a “gross invasion” of her privacy as a vulnerable person lacking capacity.
In relation to this application, the judge said the defendants position is they are regarded at law as an intermediary service provider and, as such, are not liable for information stored if they do not have actual knowledge of unlawful activity.
Having been made aware of the nature of the alleged unlawful activity, they had taken a “responsible attitude” and a substantial body of the material had been removed but some has survived.
Facebook had concerns about legal and practical difficulties if certain orders were granted aimed at restraining any future publication before the full hearing of the case taken by the Courts Service, he noted.
He was satisfied the Courts Service was entitled to interim orders requiring removal by the defendants of the identified videos and text complained of, the judge ruled.
The Courts Service had raised a serious issue touching on the rights of this elderly woman not to have her private business subject of public comment when she is a ward of court with a right to privacy, he said.
He was also satisfied damages would not be an adequate remedy in lieu of the orders and the balance of convenience also favoured them.
In line with a protocol proposed by Facebook, he directed the defendants, on notification by the Courts Service to them of the posting of further offending material, to arrange for that to be taken down.