Supreme Court Ruling Points to Significant Changes in How Contempt of Court to be Dealt With in Irish Courts

Commission Exercised Amicus Curiae Role in Case Decided Today

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has welcomed today’s significant judgment of the Supreme Court in which the Commission exercised its amicus curiae (“friend of the Court”) function.

The judgment in the case of Mr. Kevin Tracey, sees the Supreme Court clarify the law on how contempt of court issues should be approached by Judges with respect to ensuring a person’s right to a fair trial.

The case arises from a contempt of court ruling issued against Mr. Tracey in the District Court, and focused on the manner in which the finding of contempt was made.  Today’s ruling is likely to bring significant changes to practice in how a charge of contempt of court is brought forward and dealt within Ireland’s court system.

In his judgment Mr. Justice O’Donnell distinguished between the procedures required when disciplinary action is necessary (e.g. to allow proceedings to be conducted in an orderly fashion) and, on the other hand, procedures that are necessary when the court is exercising contempt of court jurisdiction, which may result in punishment being imposed in the form of imprisonment or a fine.

Where proceedings for contempt are considered necessary, a court may consider it appropriate to proceed with a separate hearing of contempt, and in this circumstance the person concerned should be warned and given the option of obtaining legal representation. The person must be given a fair opportunity of defending themselves since this is in nature a criminal offence. Where the alleged contempt consists of allegations against a judge personally, it will be necessary to have another judge hear and determine the matter.

The ruling also noted that it would be highly desirable if the opportunity was taken to place the contempt jurisdiction of all courts on a sound statutory basis, consistent with the requirements of fairness and the constitutional obligation to administer justice.

In its submissions the Commission focused on questions around whether the individual’s rights were breached in light of the Constitution of Ireland and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Commission’s submissions concluded that the case was not in compliance with the Constitution and ECHR as, amongst other things, the individual was not provided with adequate time to consider and react appropriately either to defend himself, apologise or take any other action. The Supreme Court in its written judgment delivered today described the Commission’s legal submissions as helpful.

Judgment was also handed down in a second associated case, in which the Commission was also amicus curiae, relating to Mr. Walsh.  The Commission is considering that judgment – however, as this matter has not yet concluded, no further comment will be made at this time in relation to this case.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission responded to the ruling today:

“The Commission’s submissions to the Supreme Court focused on the distinction between courtroom management sanctions versus the more serious criminal sanction of contempt and welcomes today’s ruling, which brings the necessary clarity.

“The Commission was invited by the Supreme Court to exercise its amicus curiae function in this case considering the significant human rights issues at question around the right to fair trial and the need to ensure clarity in the law in relation to contempt of court.”



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Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

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Editor’s Note

The Commission’s written submissions to the Supreme Court are available at the following link:


The amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission:

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

Section 10 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act sets out the functions of the Commission and Section 10(2)(e) provides that the IHREC shall have a function:

“to apply to the High Court or the Supreme Court for liberty to appear before the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, as amicus curiae in proceedings before that Court that involve or are concerned with the human rights or equality rights of any person and to appear as such an amicus curiae on foot of such liberty being granted (which liberty each of the said courts is hereby empowered to grant in its absolute discretion).”


Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.