New changes to the rules surrounding third party access to court documents

A change has been introduced in the Rules of the Superior Courts with effect from 1 August 2018 whereby the media now has access to documents which have been opened in court. This change only applies to the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court and was enacted pursuant to the Data Protection Act, 2018.

While the media has always had a right to report on court proceedings, subject to a number of restrictions which have not altered, this change will now enable them to access and review court documents in the following ways:

  1. By inspecting the documents under the supervision of a designated member of the court or the Court Services;
  2. By taking a copy of the documents subject to an undertaking that they would be returned following completion of the reporting; and/or
  3. By obtaining a statement/press release from the Courts Service.

Under these rules, access to these documents will only be available to “bona fide members of the media”. Evidence will need to be demonstrated to the Court Services in the form of a National Press Card issued by the National Union of Journalists or an ID card from the Press Council of Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland or the International Federation of Journalists.

Documents that have been “opened” in court or are “deemed to have been opened” in court will now be accessible. These means documents which have been read out in open court by a legal representative or a judge or that have been read privately by a judge in his chambers.

While this change will certainly help the media in accurately reporting on cases and will lead to greater transparency, parties and their legal advisors will need to be cognisant of the fact that where there may be sensitive commercial information contained in the documents, such documents can now be accessed by the press.

The Courts Service have stated their intention to issue guidelines to the media before the commencement of the new legal term in October 2018.


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