Privacy's New Paradigm: The Rise and Reform of the In Camera Rule

AuthorKieran Walsh
PositionBCL III, University College Cork
Privacy’s New Paradigm:
The Rise and Reform of
the In Camera Rule
Kieran Walsh, BCL III, University College Cork
The Rule Introduced
In the Republic of Ireland, justice is administered in public.1
This means that any person, whether they have a special
interest in the case or not, can observe from the public gallery
at every step of the process. As a result the Irish justice
system is essentially transparent and open to public scrutiny
and criticism: this shows the public that their interests in
having fair judicial process are being served by an
independent and reasonable judiciary.
Fundamental concepts of man’s inalienable right to justice
in a democratic society underpin the jurisprudential basis
for this provision, and it is only with the utmost recalcitrance
that either the judiciary or legislature would dare to impugn
it. Family law cases are, however, shrouded in mystery2
adding to the already onerous trauma that litigants bear. The
reason for this is the in camera rule, which states that certain
types of cases cannot be heard in public.
While the ideas of upholding societal mores and the
institution of the family also receive constitutional
protection,3 and thus a measure of flexibility in practice and
procedure is inevitable in certain circumstances, the in
camera rule as it has been operated simply goes too far. As
Flockton4 notes, it has become the “sacred cow” of Irish
family law at the expense of the fully fair administration of
justice, as justice plainly cannot be seen to be done. Thus, a
rethink has proven essential. The Law Reform Commission5
and Courts Commission Working Group6 have touched on
the issue and perceive certain problems. International case
law points to problems not hitherto considered relevant in
Ireland. As academics, practitioners, and—crucially from the
perspective of political impetus—the public at large became
increasingly concerned about the all-encompassing rubric
of the rule, its reform made its way onto the Programme for

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