Law commission to examine defamation laws to protect reporters

Examination follows comments by attorney general Máire Whelan

Attorney general Máire Whelan. She said those reporting court proceedings were performing an important public service

Attorney general Máire Whelan. She said those reporting court proceedings were performing an important public service

 

The Law Reform Commission is to examine whether defamation laws should be changed to protect court reporters who make honest mistakes.

Donncha O’Connell, professor of law at NUI Galway and a commissioner at the Law Reform Commission, will head up the examination.

The move comes after the attorney general, Máire Whelan, called for a review of the laws to ensure better protection for court reporters who perform an “important public service” and one of the “most challenging assignments in journalism”.

She believed reform of the defamation laws was necessary to avoid a “chilling” impact on the level and quality of court reporting people in Ireland “expect and enjoy”.

She said the Constitution required that justice be administered in public, save in exceptional circumstances, and those reporting court proceedings were performing an important public service.

Reporters should not have to fear a “simple oversight, omission or error” would expose them to risks of litigation or claims in damages, with consequent risks to their livelihood.

She said consideration should be given to requiring those who seek to sue over court reports to get leave of the courts to do so and to demonstrate, in sworn documents, the bad faith alleged.

Ms Whelan made the comments during her tribute to the outgoing president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, at his retirement last December.