I separated from my wife almost four years ago.  I can’t see us getting back together which is very unfortunate,  particularly as we have three children aged 16, 11 and 7.  I am thinking about formalising matters and think I may be eligible to apply for a divorce.  However, I have recently seen in the news and in various newspaper articles that a new law has been introduced which allows the media to report on family law cases. This is a cause of huge concern for me as I am a very private person and also wish to protect the privacy of my children. Can you please advise as to whether my privacy or the privacy of my children could be compromised in any way as a result of this new law?

On the 13th of January 2014, the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, signed into law two new acts which relax the strict ban on the media reporting on family law and childcare cases. This long standing ban, also known as the “in camera rule”, prohibited the public’s presence in a courtroom during the hearing of family law and childcare cases. Therefore, prior to the introduction of this new legislation, the only persons permitted to be present during the hearing of such cases were the parties to the proceedings, each party’s legal representatives, the Judge, the registrar and any relevant witnesses.

Under the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 (Part 2) (Commencement) Order 2014 , journalists are now permitted access to a courtroom during the hearing of family law and childcare cases.  Understandably, this recent legal development has alarmed both individuals who are currently engaged in family law proceedings and those who are considering commencing such proceedings.  However, it is important to note that the legislation provides for a number of safeguards to protect the privacy of the parties to family law and childcare proceedings.  The new legislation prohibits the reporting of any information likely to identify the parties to the proceedings and/or any child to whom the proceedings relate. In fact, a breach of this prohibition is criminal offence and those found guilty of this offence may face a fine of up to €50,000.00 or up to three years imprisonment.  In addition, a judge may exclude reporters from a courtroom during the hearing of such proceedings or may restrict the extent to which family law and childcare matters may be reported on.

The easing of the “in camera rule” has been welcomed by many child welfare groups and campaigners, who believe that such reports will ensure transparency. Minister Shatter believes that these recent legislative developments are in the public interest and will give the public a greater insight into the workings of the family law courts.

At first glance, these recent legislative developments appear to significantly uproot the long standing “in camera rule”. However, on closer inspection, it appears the legislation simply eases the “in camera rule”, placing heavy restrictions on the reporting of family law and childcare cases, with severe penalties imposed on journalists who report on information likely to reveal the identities of families engaged in such cases.