Hardiman's critique of the media can be turned on himself.
On Friday 21 November, 2008,, at a Law Society gathering, Adrian Hardiman of the Supreme Court addressed the issues of distortion and bias that characterises the media's coverage of the courts. His remarks, which have caused some anger among the media, were actually too constrained. By Vincent Browne
Adrian Hardiman's arguments were:
* Any sense of the(court) process which led to the (eventual trial) result and its significance is often distorted as the reporter or some editor focuses on some incidental but picturesque detail, or on the need for a headline.
* (There is an unwillingness in the media) to come to grips with detail. All too often (crucial details of a case) are simply missed by journalists ... with the result that the verdict is presented quite outside the context of the evidence that led to it and thereby appears rather
* Judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court spend after court hours, writing judgments so that the public, advised by the media, can see that the system of administration of justice is a logical, rigorous developing and humane one. This can no longer be said because many organs of the media, including some of the most important, are unable or unwilling to engage in the process at all.
He is right about all this. The media's instinct, in the main, is to trivialise issues, to focus on what is called “the human interest” angle, to ignore the significance of what is happening, to opt for the picturesque and sensational. Just observe what passes as crime “reporting”? Systematic distortion of the facts on crime, relentless sensationalising, alarmism. The wilful blindness to the reality that the scale of inequality in Irish society is such that over 5,000 people die prematurely every year.
He is right about the media largely ignoring important High Court and Supreme Court judgements or rather failing to convey the significance of such judgements adequately – not always but often. He has a good point about the main media outlets failing to appoint specialists to cover legal issues, although he was ungenerous in not acknowledging the work of Carol Coulter for this newspaper. He was also ungenerous in not acknowledging the pressures that court reporters such as Mary Carolan and Ray Managh experience, having to cover several cases at the same time on occasion, having to meet radio bulletin deadlines.
While his implied criticism of the existing court reporters was unfair, his general point was well founded.
But a few other issues arise.
His contention that were the judgements of the superior courts properly reported the public could perceive “that the system of administration of justice is a logical, rigorous developing and humane one” is ridiculous. I can think, off the top of my head, four judgements of his own that fail to meet these criteria. There was the judgement in the refugee case in early 2003, the Lobe case, where he found that it was ok to deport the parents of Irish citizen children, where such parents were illegal immigrants. Humane?
There was his bizarre judgement in the “A” case where he and four of his fellow judges no the Supreme Court ordered the arrest and incarceration of a man convicted of a crime which that same court had decided did not exist? Logical? Rigorous? In fact quite daft as several judges of the High Court and a great number of legal practitioners believe.
And a case of an elderly medical consultant who, in a judgement of Adrian Hardiman, was exempted from being required to answer questions to an Inquiry into medical trials on children held in residential institutions, on the grounds of this person's eminence, social status (not so described) and age.
Then the case of the two-and-a-half-year-old child, who had bonded closely with would-be adoptive parents who, everyone agreed, were loving, supportive and devoted to the child, and Adrian Hardiman, decreed this child had to be removed from the society of her loving would-be adoptive parents and placed in the custody of her natural parents. And the reason for this was that there was no ‘‘compelling reason'' to deprive the child of constitutional right to be reared and educated by her natural parents, who had married since the child had first been placed for adoption.
And, incidentally, how does this square with the Lobe decision which had to do with the entitlement of an Irish citizen baby to the company of her natural parents? There had been a case about this 13 years previously, the Fajujonu case. In that case, the Supreme Court held that only in the most exceptional of circumstances could the parents of Irish citizen children be deported. But in the Lobe case, Adrian Hardiman and two other judges (two more judges were in disagreement) decided that there would not have to be such exceptional circumstances and the deportation could go ahead to protect the integrity of the asylum system.
It would be unfair and ungenerous not to acknowledge Adrian Hardiman's general contributions to the Supreme Court. He has turned out to be a judge of enormous intellectual weight and legal erudition, although, in my opinion, he has given the court a right wing edge. And here his complaints abut the media become even more relevant – there has been no analysis of how the ideology of the Supreme Court has developed since he joined it. (And, yes, the Supreme Court is ideologically driven, and unavoidably so.)