Press generally `conscientious'

 

BY and large, the State had no public press which was "conscientious, responsible and careful, for the press is the eyes and ears of the public".

This view was expressed by Mr Justice Budd, of the High Court, when he addressed the gathering at the fourth annual Burren Law School at Newtown Castle, Ballyvaughan, at the weekend.

There was, however, "a conflict and tension between protection of the individual's human rights and the principles of free speech and freedom of the press".

He referred to a recent case of a "photograph of an accused man in handcuffs, which he said was liable to "influence the minds of a jury in the course of a trial".

He said in the past this had never happened, because it was the practice to take photographs showing only the top of the person, otherwise the jury could see that the accused person was not on bail.

Justice Budd would not agree that there was inconsistency of sentencing in the courts.

"The sentence may appear to be inconsistent if there are aspects of the case which are not fully reported. It is important that all the reasons given for sentencing are fairly and accurately reported."

Mr Frank Daly, president of The Law Society, said no one remembered what the beef tribunal was up to but everyone remembered what the lawyers' fees were.

The media and lawyers, he said, were now at a crossroads. Since the death of Veronica Guerin, the media and journalists generally had retaliated, and we now hail accused and alleged criminals widely named and photographed, even photographed in chains.

Ms Marie McGonagle, lecturer in law at University College, Galway, speaking on "Defamation: 19th-century laws for 21st-century media", criticised the Government for "ignoring the detailed work done by the Law Reform Commission and the recommendations of the Newspaper Commission" and for failing to legislate even when presented with a Private Members' Bill based on the Law Reform Commission's proposals.

Successive governments in Ireland had allowed outdated laws to become even more outdated. Ms McGonagle said. "They are allowing Irish law to lag behind that of the rest of Europe and other countries."