Reporting Restrictions & Anonymity Orders In Northern Ireland
26 July 2013
Author: Olivia O'Kane
Practice Area: Media and Defamation
Northern Ireland Editor’s Liaison Group (NIELG) is made up of senior editors within the local broadcast and newspaper industry in Northern Ireland. The aim of this informal group of editors is to discuss matters of general concern and how the media industry operates in this jurisdiction.
Preceding a number of court reporters indicating that there was a growth in the number of anonymity and reporting restriction orders being directed, the NIELG asked me to ascertain the statistics.
This article provides some information relating to reporting restrictions and anonymity orders granted in Northern Ireland’s County Court Division.
The Northern Ireland Court Service provided information in respect of the following for the period 01 September 2012 to 30 June 2013:
(i) the number of cases in which a reporting restrictions order was granted; and
(ii) the number of cases in which an anonymity order has been granted by County Court Division.
Whilst the statistics are informative it has limited value to the following question: to what extent has open justice been derogated? The statistics do not assist in determining whether the reporting restrictions and anonymity orders relate solely for the benefit of defendants, in respect of restricting details of trials and court rulings and for what reasons the orders are granted.
Given that the statistics are stark, as statistics are by nature, this is a sober reminder of the necessity of journalists attending court hearings and fulfilling their function as public watchdog.
Access to information and entitlement to receive it is part of a healthy democracy, it ensures that authority is scrutinized and provides citizens with knowledge to make informed decisions. That’s why the mass media are often referred to as the fourth estate of Government, the fourth power and watchdog providing a social function.
Table 1 outlines the number of cases for which the Court Service has records during this period in which:
(i) at least one reporting restrictions order was granted; and
(ii) at least one anonymity order was granted
Table 1: Number of cases in which (i) at least one reporting restriction order was granted and (ii) at least one anonymity order was granted: 01 September 2012 to 30 June 2013P
1 Relates to the court order REPR – Reporting Restrictions Order which includes restrictions placed upon the reporting of details relating to a number of matters. The main restrictions are in relation to the identification of a defendant; identification of an injured party; identification of a witness; the address of any party and reporting restrictions on a court ruling.P2013 data are currently provisional
2 Relates to the court order AOG – Anonymity Order Granted which includes restrictions placed upon the reporting of details in relation to either the identification of a defendant or a witness.
3 Relates to civil cases with a Special Attention of either (i) Reporting Restriction or (ii) Participant anonymised (for example a minor in a judicial review) and reporting restrictions on criminal appeals to the High Court.
The term has been attributed to Edmund Burke who purportedly coined the phrase in 1787 during a parliamentary debate on the opening up of the Press reporting on the House of Commons.
 Source: Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS)