On the 19 November 2018 the Chief Justice Mr Frank Clarke issued a new Practice Direction regarding the use of cameras and electronic devices in Court.

The aim of the Practice Direction is to provide clarity for all parties involved or attending before the Courts as to the prohibitions which apply to the use of a camera or electronic device. The Practice Direction sets out that an electronic device can include a smartphone, computer, tablet or other similar device.

 In issuing the Practice Direction the Chief Justice wanted to ensure that all proceedings are conducted in accordance with fair procedures and in a manner, which ensures the proper administration of justice.

 The Chief Justice has previously stated that the increased use of social media as a means of communication is not entirely detrimental and acknowledged that the court system uses the medium for some communications regarding the administration of justice. However, he noted that it is important to take action to avoid the negative effect the inappropriate use of social media has on trials and the administration of justice.

 The Chief Justice has emphasised that there is a potential for unregulated social media to have an impact on the fairness of the trial process itself and this is a legitimate and particular concern of the judiciary and that it has become apparent that there is a need for guidance and rules on the use of social media and digital devices in the court.

 This Practice Direction comes following several incidents regarding the use of social media during court proceedings. The issue was highlighted last year, during the high profile Jobstown trial during which a Defendant posted a series of videos, relating to the evidence of the case.

As a result of the Practice Direction while any person may take notes of court proceedings in writing, no person other than the Courts Service may make a recording of the proceedings by means of an electronic device without seeking and receiving permission of the Judge presiding in the proceedings.

 Only a practicing member of the legal profession who has bona fide business in the proceedings concerned and a bona fide member of the news media profession/professional legal commentator whose professional standing is established to the Court’s satisfaction and who is using such a device for the purpose of reporting proceedings before the court may transmit live text-based communications during court proceedings provided such use would not disrupt the proceedings.

 The taking of photographs or transmission by video of court proceedings is strictly prohibited except where permission to do so has been given by the President of the court concerned.

Any infringement of the provisions of the Practise Direction may result in the court taking appropriate measures to address the infringement such as, directing the person concerned to desist from using the electronic device, removal of the person concerned from the courtroom, an order that the person concerned surrender the electronic device and/or surrender any recorded material.

 The introduction of the Practice Direction is without prejudice to any rule of law requiring that court proceedings are to be heard otherwise than in public, i.e. the in-camera rule in Family Law proceedings.

 The Practice Direction came in to force on the 26 November 2018.

 Breda Sheahan is an Associate in the Litigation Team of FitzGerald Legal & Advisory. To contact Breda please email bredasheahan@fitzsols.com


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