Judge dismisses application to jail newspaper editors

The High Court has today dismissed an application to have editors and some other staff of two daily newspapers jailed for alleged contempt of court.

Patrick Kelly (aged 33), a qualified teacher from Deansrath Avenue, Clondalkin, Dublin, has brought motions seeking to jail Irish Times editor Kevin O'Sullivan; Irish Times legal affairs editor Carol Coulter, Irish Independent editor Gerry O'Regan; Michael Denieffe, managing editor of Independent Newspapers Ireland, and Irish Independent legal editor Dearbhail McDonald.

Mr Kelly claimed he was entitled to orders jailing the respondents, and seizing the assets of the newspapers, on grounds of articles published in July 2011 of court proceedings he was involved in which, he claimed were inaccurate, unfair and prejudicial to him and amounted to a criminal contempt of a action he has brought before the High Court.

The respondents denied contempt.

In his ruling today Mr Justice John Hedigan said he was satisfied to dismiss the motions against the newspapers after finding the articles published could not prejudice Mr Kelly's High Court action.

Mr Kelly's application concerned articles published in the Irish Independent and Irish Times concerning a ruling by the European Court in Luxembourg.

That ruling arose out of proceedings, yet to be decided, brought by Mr Kelly against University College Dublin after he was refused entry in 2002 to the UCD Social Science Masters degree course.

Mr Kelly made a complaint on sexual discrimination grounds to the Equality Tribunal in 2002 after he was refused a place on the UCD course.

The Tribunal dismissed his complaint in 2006 after which he brought High Court proceedings.

As part of those proceedings, he sought unredacted information from UCD relating to the qualifications of candidates selected to take part in the course. He claims he was more qualified than at least one of the female candidates selected. UCD refused to provide that information on grounds that it was confidential.

When the matter came before the High Court in 2011, several questions arising out of the case were referred to the European Court of Justice. The ECJ issued its determination last July and, the following day, the Irish Independent and Irish Times published articles about that ruling.

In his ruling, the Judge said Mr Kelly's claim that the reports stated the ECJ had found against him and he lost his case.

Mr Kelly, the Judge said, argued the articles were untrue, unfair to him and misrepresented the ECJ decision which answered questions of law put to it by the High Court.

The Judge said that Mr Kelly's real complaint in this action was understandably about the public perception of him and his case after it was reported that he had lost.

Mr Kelly complained to both newspapers about the articles but was unhappy with their responses, including the publication of a clarification by the Irish Times and the offer of a publication by the Irish Independent.

Mr Kelly subsequently made complaints to the Press Ombudsman, the Judge said.

The Judge said reporting on court cases can be difficult, and it was inevitable journalists may get it wrong. There is an onus, he said, on the press to do all that they can that reports are accurate and right.

He said Mr Kelly argued that in this instance the press had done much more than get it wrong, and had been in criminal contempt of court.

The Judge said he was satisfied that the articles complained were not in contempt of court.

He agreed with submissions made by Shane English Bl on behalf of the Irish Times that the articles in question in no way impeded or prejudiced the administration of justice.

Any Judge hearing Mr Kelly's case against UCD would not be influenced or by any press publications of the ECJ's ruling, the Judge said.

Such reports would not be taken into account and he was satisfied there was "no risk" that the sitting judge would be prejudiced against Mr Kelly by the articles in question.

The Judge also awarded the newspapers their costs against Mr Kelly.

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