Attorney General Máire Whelan has called for a review of defamation laws to ensure journalists reporting the courts are not exposed to the risk of litigation or damages claims due to a simple oversight, omission or error in reporting proceedings.

Speaking at the final sitting of High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, she said Mr Justice Kearns had always been helpful and supportive towards journalists covering the courts and had been willing to facilitate and assist them in the important public service they provided by promptly reporting proceedings accurately.

The Attorney General said Article 34.1 of the Constitution provided that justice should be administered in public, save in special circumstances. 

She said court reporters executed this important constitutional value.

She said covering the courts must be one of the most challenging assignments in journalism in the State. 

She said court reporters were subject to very tight deadlines and had to try to assimilate complex and involved details and present them in a clear, accessible and coherent fashion whilst getting names and titles correct.

Ms Whelan said she believed the time had come to review defamation laws to ensure that the public interest was fully served and the values and aspirations enshrined in Article 34.1 were not debased or compromised or diluted by fears or concerns on the part of any journalist or court reporter that a simple oversight, omission or error in reporting court proceedings exposed them to risks of litigation, or claims in damages. 

She said this could risk their livelihood with the trauma and attendant uncertainty and stress pending conclusion of such claims.

She said that to avoid a chilling impact on the level and quality of court reporting that the people of this country expect and enjoy there should at least be a debate and consideration given to enshrining in our laws a provision that no report of court proceedings should be actionable in defamation in the absence of proof of malice. 

She said that to institute such proceedings the proposed plaintiff should first have to seek leave of the court and demonstrate on affidavit the malice alleged.