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Irish Times: 'Public's right to know trumps privacy rights'

21st June 2010

The Irish Times reports today on a High Court judgment which ruled in favour of freedom of expression over an individual's right to privacy. The risk of reoffending was a factor in the judgment, writes Carol Coulter, Legal Affairs Editor.

The case concerned a convicted sex offender, released from prison last year, having served 13 years. The sex offender was seeking an injunction preventing newspapers from printing his address and picture, claiming that he could not live or work anywhere because as soon as he moved, news­papers revealed his address and printed photos of him. The newspapers were having a negative impact on his efforts to engage with a rehabilitation programme, he claimed.

Carol Coulter writes:

"In coming down on the side of freedom of expression as against an individual’s right to privacy, Ms Justice Mary Irvine took into account Michael Murray’s individual circumstances and the fact that the court had little in terms of “cogent or proper evidence” to suggest he was unlikely to reoffend."

Judge Irvine contrasted the case with another high-profile case in the High Court in Belfast, when Mr Justice Stephens ruled that "the publication of unpixelated photographs of a former prisoner about to be released after serving 21 years of a life sentence, would disrupt his supervision and support regime and would increase the risk to the public by increasing his risk of reoffending."

Ms Justice Irvine said none of this arose in Murray’s case. "[This] may emerge when the case comes to a full hearing, but for now the court has ruled the public’s right to know his whereabouts trumps his right to privacy."

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