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Justice Paul Carney on Trial by Media (including Nora Wall Case)

Judge Says Trials on TV Would Allow Justice to be Monitored

Irish Times, January 24, 2000 by IrishTimes Reporter

A strong argument could be made for the televising of court cases, a High Court judge said at the weekend. Mr Justice Paul Carney also said that the news media could be trusted to report family law cases.

At a legal seminar in Trinity College Dublin, Mr Justice Carney cited the late Mr Justice Brian Walsh's vision of the citizen coming to the Four Courts from the four corners of Ireland to see for himself that justice was being done.

"It seems to me that there is a very strong case to be made that the citizen should be entitled to monitor and observe the fair administration of justice in their home through the contemporary technology of television." The absence of reporting of family law cases was damaging to our understanding of the nature of our society, he felt. Mr Justice Carney, who is also a senior judge of the Central Criminal Court, said: "It is only because of the centralisation of the trial of serious sexual crime in [that] court that we have an understanding of what is happening in that area.

"Were such cases dispersed between the various circuit courts around the country, we would not have such an understanding. Such cases have been responsibly reported, with anonymity being properly protected. The media could, in my view, be trusted to responsibly report family law."

He referred to Article 34.1 of the Constitution which states: "Justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided by this Constitution, and, save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, shall be administered in public."

It seemed to Mr Justice Carney that the number of restrictions to which the media were subjected by the law or the courts "would seem to go beyond what the words `special and limited' would suggest".

The judge told the seminar, sponsored by Trinity College law school, that he had no doubt the media had not yet appreciated the implications for them by judgments delivered in last month's Supreme Court verdict in Kelly vs O'Neill and Brady. The judgments of Ms Justice Denham and Mr Justice Keane would have implications for three situations which had occurred before Mr Justice Carney in the very recent past. Firstly, during a murder trial which had just concluded [last Friday] the accused had been named in a tabloid headline as a "brute". Secondly, in the Nora Wall case, during the period between conviction and sentence, a tabloid had stated that she was a procurer of children for Father Brendan Smyth.

In the third instance, before an annual review of the probation regime of the 15-year-old girl who had pleaded guilty to the murder of Franco Sacco, a newspaper had reported that she was in gross breach of the terms of her probation.

"On the actual hearing before me of the probation review, the probationary service reported that she was doing well in her occupation, that both she and her family were fully co-operating with the probation service, so much so that they requested that review by the courts should be terminated."

Mr Justice Carney concluded: "The Supreme Court has moved away, it seems to me, from a consideration of whether the judge is going to be affected by media coverage of the kind I have indicated, to a concern for the accused person up to the point of final disposal of any appeal process being able to feel that he is receiving a fair and impartial administration of justice, and that he is not being subjected to trial by media, and that feelings of hostility or hysteria are not being stirred up against him or her."