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CITIZENS' RIGHTS IN THE COURTS

  • Madam, - It was with much disquiet that I read a report in The Irish Times of February 26th that an Irish citizen, Ms Maura Harrington, was compelled to go to the High Court to seek an order to have a stenographer present at a District Court hearing.
    In addition, the presiding Judge of Belmullet District Court, Judge Devins, refused Ms Harrington a copy of the official court transcript. Judge Devins, according to Ms Harrington's solicitor, said the record of the proceedings "belonged to the courts service".
    Why on earth does a citizen have to go to the High Court to obtain a record of court proceedings to which he or she is party? And why does a citizen have to go to the High Court to be allowed to have his or her own professional stenographer present to generate a record of a court hearing?
    Article 34.1 of the Constitution promulgates that justice is processed in courts and "shall be administered in public. . .save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law". No such law governs these proceedings. This is not a family court, held in camera.
    In addition, the interests of justice must, in reason, dictate that an accurate record of court proceedings is available to any citizen in a case concerning him or her.
    This basic democratic right is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights on "Freedom of Expression". The said article, which is part of Irish law since 2003, expressly includes "the right to receive and impart information without interference by public authority". The transgression of such a fundamental right by, of all bodies, a court of law underscores the urgent necessity for judicial accountability.
    The Judicial Council, mooted many years ago, requires to be enacted and enforced as a matter of urgency to ensure that citizens do not have to go to the trouble, stress and very high expense of going to the High Court to have basic human rights protected and upheld. Some measure of accountability is required of judges, who, it should be remembered, derive their authority under the Constitution from the people.
    The courts have a duty to uphold the law and they also have a duty not to act in a manner which is more applicable to the 16th century than to a 21st century constitutional democracy.
    - Yours, etc,
    NUALA O'LOUGHLIN, Arran Quay, Dublin 7.
  • Posted Date: 
    26 March 2008 - 11:09pm