Widespread restrictions on press coverage of personal injury cases involving minors would have massive ramifications for the media, the public and democracy itself, a court heard Friday.
Barrister Shane English told Judge James O’Donoghue he was being asked to grant an injunction-type order restraining something that may or may not occur in the future and no court in the land would make such a direction.
Mr English, who appeared on the instructions of Mediahuis Ireland, the country’s largest media group, said an application to restrain publication of the identities of all parties in a case before the Circuit Civil Court was completely unmeritorious and being sought without a shred of evidence.
John Nolan, counsel for an 11-year-old boy who was injured on a school bus while returning from a day trip, had asked the Circuit Civil Court to ban publication of his name and address and said identification of the defendants could lead to his vilification on social media.
Mr Nolan, who appeared with Maria Lakes of Tracey Solicitors for Aaron Rossiter and his mother, Claire, said his solicitor had uncovered previous on-line intimidation of other minors post-publication of personal injury cases in which financial settlements had been approved for them by the courts.
He told Judge O’Donoghue that no malicious comment had as yet appeared anywhere on Facebook, Twitter or TikTok but his legal representatives feared malevolent comment would happen as soon as newspapers and other media identified the child who was only five at the time of his injury.
Mr Nolan said that under the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 the court had jurisdiction to impose the ban being sought if a court was satisfied it was necessary to preserve the anonymity of a party to a proceedings or any child to whom it related.
“The identities of previous victims of malicious harassment on social media comment were obviously gleaned from newspaper articles,” he said.
Mr English told Judge O’Donoghue his court had no jurisdiction to ban publication of the names and addresses of any or all parties in a minors personal injury claim. There had not been a shred of evidence put before the court that what was anticipated would happen in the future.
“The court had been misdirected on the law,” Mr English said. “The supplemental amendment to Section 40 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 relates to the Illegitimacy Act of 1931 and other Acts relating to family law Acts.”
Mr English told the court there was no provision in law for anonymity in personal injury actions and the court was being asked to police the internet.
Judge O’Donoghue, refusing Mr Nolan’s application, said that if it were to succeed every infant personal injury case before this court could not be fully reported.
The court approved a €25,000 settlement offer in the proceedings brought by Ms Claire Rossiter, Highland Grove, Cabinteely, Co Dublin on behalf of her son, against St Brigid’s School, Mart Lane, Foxrock, Dublin 18, and Finnegan-Bray Ltd and Old Court Motor Services Ltd trading as Ridgway Coaches.