DPP -v- Independent Newspapers, [2009] IESC 20 (2009)

Docket Number:221/05
Party Name:DPP, Independent Newspapers
Judge:Hardiman J. / Fennelly J. / Geoghegan J.



Murray C.J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.

Finnegan J.








JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Hardiman delivered the 5th day of March, 2009.

In my previous judgment in this matter, delivered on the 5th March, 2008, I expressed the view that the court should decline to entertain the Director's purported appeal, on the basis that no such appeal lay by virtue of s.11 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1993. This conclusion, in turn, rested on the proposition that because the Director's application against the respondents was a proceeding of a criminal nature. The High Court in hearing it was acting as the Central Criminal Court, by virtue of s.11 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, and in particular subsection (1) thereof.

That conclusion, of course, would be sufficient to dispose of the entire appeal. However, my judgment was a minority one, all my colleagues being of the view that the High Court was not acting as the Central Criminal Court in hearing this application.

Subsequent to the decision on that issue, the matter was adjourned for further argument on the merits. I consider that, in the circumstances of the case, the judgment of the Court, by majority, of the 5th March, 2008, is binding on me i.e. that I must assume that an appeal does lie.

On that assumption, I agree with the order proposed by Mr. Justice Geoghegan and the judgment in which that proposal is made, subject to a few remarks made below.

I specifically agree with Mr. Justice Geoghegan's conclusions on the question of an entitlement to jury trial on a contempt application, as arising from the constitutional provisions in relation to the trial of offences. It occurs to me that the verdict of the jury on such a trial would have to be in the nature of a "special verdict" i.e. the jury would answer specific questions put to them by the judge having heard the parties, much like the procedure followed in a civil action tried with a jury. The question of whether, having regard to the facts found by the jury, a contempt of court should be found, would then in every instance be a matter for the judge, for the reasons given by Mr. Justice Geoghegan.

Fortunately, contempt of court is not a matter which arises very frequently in the courts' work. No doubt it is for that reason that some very basic questions are now the subject of full argument for the first time. Although not frequently exercised, it is absolutely essential that the Court should possess a jurisdiction to protect the integrity of their proceedings against loud and plangent assertions of the guilt (or innocence) of a person against whom proceedings are pending, long before the trial begins. There is clearly a case for the Oireachtas to consider whether, as has been done in the neighbouring jurisdiction, the complex and in some respects archaic common law of contempt should not now be placed on a statutory basis.

I wish to make two specific comments on the judgment of Mr. Justice Geoghegan. Firstly, I wish entirely to agree with what he said about the role of the so called "fade factor" in applications of this sort. It may be a matter of great significance on an application to prohibit a trial on the ground of prejudicial publicity, but that is an application of quite a different sort from the present. The question of whether a publication is or is not a contempt of court falls to be decided as to of the time it was published and to that issue the fade factor is not relevant at all. On the other hand, on an application to prohibit a trial, it may be of the greatest significance and may in particular suggest that an adjournment of the criminal proceedings is the appropriate remedy. But I would also observe, as I believe I have elsewhere, that the question of the "fade factor" is often dealt with on both sides in an impressionistic and unscientific fashion but of course the question of what evidence is deployed on these issues is a matter for the parties.

Although the law of contempt has become encrusted with technicalities over the years, especially in the absence of statutory reform, it is not in any sense a purely technical area. On the contrary, the law which prohibits prejudicial comment one way or the other in a pending criminal trial protects a very basic human and civil right: the right to have the guilt or innocence of persons accused of crime assessed by the proper tribunal, untroubled by outside pressures or by public assertions, express or implied, to the effect that the defendant is or is not guilty or should or should not be convicted.

Many Irish people will remember how strange and how utterly unfair it seemed, thirty years ago, when the media in another jurisdiction appeared, with impunity, to assume the guilt of certain Irish people facing criminal charges. It is no less inappropriate in this jurisdiction. In relation to almost every sort of criminal charge there are some persons who will be gratified or advantaged if the alleged criminals are "led out in handcuffs". But such persons, especially if they are newspaper editors or others who are powerful or influential in the shaping of public opinion, must take care not to pollute the fountain of justice by expressing, or seeming to express, a view as to the guilt or innocence of accused persons, especially in lurid or vivid terms. Apart from anything else, such views are rarely based on an examination of the evidence which will eventually come before the trial court.

I also wish to observe that I adhere to the view expressed in my previous judgment that the matter before the High Court was a criminal matter and was not either a civil matter or a matter which was sui generis. Indeed I reiterate my approval of the statement of Chief Baron Palles, whose full context is set out in my previous judgment, that the jurisdiction which the High Court was exercising on this application was "a jurisdiction essentially criminal". The application is not, of course, such as attracts the same procedures as a trial on indictment, for the reasons given by Mr. Justice Geoghegan. But that does not detract in my view from its essentially criminal nature.


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JUDGMENT BY: Fennelly J.



Murray C.J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.

Finnegan J.




JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Fennelly delivered the 5th day of March 2008.

  1. The Respondents have made a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of this Court to hear this appeal. They submit that no appeal lies from the decision of the High Court (Dunne J.), refusing the application of the Appellant to attach or commit the Respondents for contempt of court. Determination of that issue depends on the correct interpretation of s.11 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1993 combined with s. 11 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961.

  2. The appellants say: a) the contempt jurisdiction of the High Court is a criminal jurisdiction; b) the High Court, when exercising its criminal jurisdiction, including its power to attach or commit for contempt of Court, is called the Central Criminal Court (s. 11 of the Act of 1961); c) there is no appeal from the Central Criminal Court to this Court (s. 11 of the 1993 Act).

  3. The appellant applied by notice of motion to the High Court for an order directing the attachment and committal and/or sequestration of the assets of the Respondents and each of them for contempt of court in respect of material published in the Evening Herald on 2nd December 2004. The notice of motion also sought an order restraining the Respondent from further publishing material "calculated to interfere with the trial process now in being between the Applicant [the appellant] and Patrick O'Dwyer……" The application was grounded on an affidavit sworn by Mr John Forde, a solicitor in the Office of the Chief Prosecution Solicitor. Mr Forde deposed that, on 1st December 2004, one Patrick O'Dwyer had appeared before the District Court in Ennis, County Clare, charged with murder. He exhibited a copy of the Evening Herald published on 2nd December 2004. He alleged that the contents of the article were calculated to interfere with the course of justice and the trial process and to prejudice the fair trial of the said Patrick O'Dwyer, that they were in breach of the sub judice rule and amounted to a contempt of court. According to the affidavit, the Evening Herald is published by the first-named Respondent, the second-named Respondent is its editor and the impugned articles were written by the third-named Respondent. A brief affidavit on behalf of the Respondents was sworn by Ms Paula Mullooly, solicitor.

  4. The application was heard by Ms Justice Dunne. At the conclusion of the presentation of the case on behalf of the appellant, counsel for the Respondents applied to the learned judge for "a direction," or non-suit, relying on the principle that a trial court may direct an acquittal at that point. It was submitted that it was essential that there be proof before the court of a real risk of interference with a criminal trial and that no evidence had been adduced by the prosecution to...

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