Judge apologises to journalists for exclusion from court hearing

Detective says ‘Guards don’t know how to deal with the press. They are afraid, ‘Do I let them in or not?’’

Interior of the Criminal Courts of Justice, Parkgate Street, Dublin. Judge Brian O’Shea called journalists Marie O’Halloran of The Irish Times and Allison Bray of the Irish Independent to a special sitting of the District Court on Wednesday to determine why they were excluded from a bail hearing the previous day for a 15-year-old boy accused of an assault causing harm in Dublin last weekend. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.

Interior of the Criminal Courts of Justice, Parkgate Street, Dublin. Judge Brian O’Shea called journalists Marie O’Halloran of The Irish Times and Allison Bray of the Irish Independent to a special sitting of the District Court on Wednesday to determine why they were excluded from a bail hearing the previous day for a 15-year-old boy accused of an assault causing harm in Dublin last weekend. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.

 

A District Court judge has urged a member of An Garda Síochána who excluded three journalists from a children’s court hearing in an assault case to apologise to the reporters for the mistake.

Judge Brian O’Shea called journalists Marie O’Halloran of The Irish Times and Allison Bray of the Irish Independent to a special sitting of the court on Wednesday to determine why they were excluded from a bail hearing the previous day for a 15-year-old boy accused of an assault causing harm in Dublin last weekend.

The journalists, along with a reporter from the Irish Daily Mail, were prevented from entering the court by a garda for the hearing of the bail application for the teenager who was charged under the Offences Against the Person Act with assault causing harm and under the Firearms Act for the possession of a knife.

The boy, who cannot be identified because he is under 18 years of age, appeared in relation to an assault on a 25-year-old woman at Queen’s Road, Dún Laoghaire, last Saturday.

The judge apologised to Ms O’Halloran and Ms Bray for being excluded from his court and reassured them that if he had known, he would not have permitted their exclusion.

“If I had know that this had taken place outside my courtroom, I would not have tolerated it,” he told the journalists at a special court sitting at the Criminal Courts of Justice next to the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Reporting restrictions

The judge said that there were “no circumstances where a journalist should not be allowed into court for a section two bail hearing” and he suggested the garda responsible may have conflated reporting restrictions around the case and the exclusion of members of the public from a children’s court hearing.

He said he was “very conscious” that Chief Justice Frank Clarke had stated publicly there should be openness and transparency about what goes on in court.

“I am struggling to get into my head how frustrating it must have been being outside the door and not being allowed in for a story that they had an interest in,” Judge O’Shea said.

He said he had asked Det Garda Daniel Treacy of Dún Laoghaire Garda station to attend court in an effort to find out who made the decision to exclude the journalists from Tuesday’s hearing.

The judge told Det Garda Treacy that if the garda responsible was “worth their salt”, then the garda should contact the journalists and apologise.

He expected this apology would be accepted and that would be the end of the matter, but he did say the newspapers would have recourse to make a complaint in another forum.

He suggested the error may be prevented in future in a more practicable way by putting signs in court saying that journalists should not be excluded from court unless specifically ordered by the judge.

Det Garda Treacy said that the issue was about educating gardaí about what was permitted or not.

“Guards don’t know how to deal with the press,” he said. “They are afraid, ‘Do I let them in or not?’”

Opportunity to apologise

The judge stressed to Det Garda Treacy that he did not want him to feel that he was at the receiving end of his complaint but that he might make inquiries that would lead to the garda responsible for excluding the journalists to apologise to them.

He said he read The Irish Times and the Irish Independent every day and not only did they not publish anything prejudicial in relation to this case but favourably reported that the boy had no previous convictions.

Solicitor Joe O’Malley, for The Irish Times, described the exclusion of the journalists as “entirely unwarranted and inexcusable” and hoped the appropriate person would do the right thing and apologise.

Kieran Kelly, solicitor for the Irish Independent, thanked the judge and said that it would not have been the first time the journalists had come across the frustration of being excluded from a court.

“It is unfortunate sometimes people do conflate what the rules are,” he said.

The judge asked the journalists to pass his apologies on to the Irish Daily Mail journalist Barry Hartigan who was also excluded from Tuesday’s hearing.

Bail was refused for the 15-year-old boy on Tuesday because gardaí fear he may commit murder if released from custody, the court heard.

It also heard that the alleged victim and the accused made contact on social media through the Whisper App and the exchange of a series of texts. During the exchange of messages, the alleged victim obtained photos of him and later identified him from the photos to gardaí. CCTV footage was also obtained.

Citing the garda’s evidence, the judge said the accused lured the complainant to a series of abandoned locations and assaulted the victim with a transverse laceration to the neck and “choked her to within an inch of her life to the extent that a tear was released from her eye”.