The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, today announced the coming into operation for the start of the new legal term of reforms to the in camera rule for family law and childcare proceedings.  

The Minister signed the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 (Part 2) (Commencement) Order 2014 commencing Part 2 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 with immediate effect.

The changes that come into force allow the media to report on family law and childcare proceedings according to strict conditions.  These reforms are designed to address the need for public access to important information on the operation of family and child care proceedings in the courts. The changes are part of the Government’s commitment in the Programme for Government to reform and modernise aspects of family law.

Making the announcement, the Minister said, "We are now implementing important changes to the longstanding in camera rule in family law and child care proceedings.  It is in the public interest that there be greater knowledge of the administration of the law in this important area and in this context that the media have access to and be able to report on family law and child care cases. These reforms will provide valuable information to the public, judiciary and legal professionals on the operation of the law by our courts.  However, the public’s right to know has to be balanced with a family’s right to privacy.  It will be strictly prohibited to report any information likely to identify the parties to the proceedings or any child to whom the proceedings relate."

There is a continuing need to respect the privacy and anonymity of families in view of the sensitivity of these proceedings.  The courts will retain the power to exclude representatives of the press or to restrict reporting in certain circumstances.  The intention of the measure is to provide an appropriate balance in the public interest between providing greater transparency with regard to the application of family law by the courts whilst ensuring that the best interests of children are protected and that the legislation does not act as a deterrent to those who need to access the courts to address a family issue from doing so.  It is also designed to ensure that the anonymity of those engaged in family and/or childcare disputes is preserved and that sensitive information is not disclosed. The legislation prohibits the reporting of information likely to identify the parties to the proceedings or any children to whom the proceedings relate.  Breaches of the prohibition will constitute a criminal offence and those found guilty of the offence may be liable to a fine to a maximum limit of €50,000 and or a term of imprisonment up to 3 years.

12 January 2013

ENDS

Note for Editors

In-Camera Rule
The purpose of the in camera rule is to protect the identity of the parties and any child to whom family law or childcare proceedings relate. Part 2 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 amends section 40 (Proceedings heard otherwise than in public) of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It amends the in camera rule in family law and childcare proceedings so as to allow bona fide representatives of the press to be present in court during these proceedings.  The reform will enable the media, researchers and legal professionals to gain access to valuable information on the operation of the law in this area.   

However, the court may exclude representatives of the press from the court, or otherwise restrict their attendance, during the hearing or particular parts of it, or restrict or prohibit the publication or broadcasting of evidence given or referred to during the proceedings where a court is satisfied that it is necessary to do so (i) in order to preserve the anonymity of a party to the proceedings or any child to whom the proceedings relate, (ii) by reason of the nature or circumstances of the case or (iii) as it is otherwise necessary in the interests of justice.

Section 6 inserts a new section 40A (Prohibition on publication or broadcast of certain matters) into the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. The new section 40A prohibits the publication or broadcasting of any information that would be likely to lead members of the public to identify the parties to family law proceedings or any children to whom the proceedings relate.

It will be an offence to contravene this provision.  Anyone breaching this prohibition will be liable (i) on summary conviction, to a class A fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or both.  The new section 40A will not affect the law on contempt of court.

Section 8 amends section 29 (Hearing of proceedings) of the Child Care Act 1991 so as to allow bona fide representatives of the press to be present in court during child care proceedings under that Act, similar to the provisions relating to the presence of the press at family law proceedings. 

Section 9 provides for technical amendments to section 31 (Prohibition on publication or broadcast of certain matters) of the Child Care Act 1991, which prohibits the publication or broadcast of information likely to lead members of the public to identify a child involved in care proceedings under that Act.  Those breaching the prohibition will be liable ((i) on summary conviction, to a class A fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or  (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or both).

SI No 5 of 2014