Does media law differ in Northern Ireland from England and Wales?

How is the law in Northern Ireland the same as in England and Wales?

  • Not just in terms of media law, but broadly speaking the law, including the courts structure, in Northern Ireland is surprisingly similar to that of England and Wales. Scotland, for example, has its own legal system with fundamental differences protected by the Act of Union. Orders made by the Secretary of State (rather than Acts of Parliament) are the means by which laws applicable in England and Wales also apply to Northern Ireland.

  • Northern Ireland’s High Court freely cites English cases in important media cases, demonstrating the links between the media law in both areas. In terms of civil and criminal cases in Northern Ireland, the Supreme Court (formerly, The House of Lords) is the final and authoritative court of appeal.

  • The most important topics of media law in Northern Ireland are: defamation, contempt of court and reporting restrictions (preliminary hearings, Crown courts, juveniles in court, domestic proceedings, sexual offences, identifying jurors).

What are the laws on defamation in Northern Ireland?

  • The Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 is an identical Act to the Defamation Act 1952 which applies to the rest of the United Kingdom. There are two sections of the Defamation Act 1955 which are still in force (otherwise refer to the Defamation Act 1996). These are section 5 – failure to prove every allegation of fact in the defences of justification – and section 6 – fair comment (a defence to a libel action in which the defendant does not have to show the words were fair but he/she must show that they were honest and published without malice.)

What are the laws on contempt of court in Northern Ireland?

  • The Contempt of Court Act 1981 applies to Northern Ireland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom.High Court decisions in London are applicable and cited in courts there.

  • ‘Diplock courts’, in which a judge alone would try the cases of terrorists charged with scheduled offences, were introduced to lessen prejudice in the proceedings and so the risk of contempt of court. However, the effect of other people’s beliefs on witnesses in these special courts cannot always be accounted for.

What are the reporting restrictions in place in Northern Ireland?

    The Judicial Studies Board for Northern Ireland, chaired by Lord Justice Higgins, issued guidelines to courts on reporting restrictions in 2008. The Board urged courts to exercise their discretion in instances where the media would make representations requesting discretionary reporting restrictions.

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For more information on:

  • What are the laws regarding juveniles in court in Northern Ireland?