Wednesday, 2 January 2013

I'm a celebrity lawyer ... get me out of here!

I should really begin this post by saying that I'm not a solicitor.  I'm not a barrister either; I'm not even a law clerk.  Everything I know about the legal profession, I've gleaned from box sets of Rumpole Of The Bailey, with the odd episode of The Irish R.M. thrown in for good measure.  

 This is a joke, please don't report me to Aodhán Ó Ríordáin!
So it could be that when it comes to reporting on one of their own in their official publication, the Law Society of Ireland operate a clandestine set of rules that the rest of us don't know about.  

That said....I was more than a little surprised when a solicitor friend put me wise to the article appearing on page 9 of the December 2012 edition of the Law Society Gazette.  (You can access the entire publication here: Law Society Gazette and then scroll down to page 9.)

As you can see, the story seems to be part of a regular slot entitled "In the media spotlight" - presumably focusing on members of the profession who are involved in high profile cases.  The December slot is devoted to Gerard O'Donnell, Solicitor for Praveen Halappanavar, husband of Savita who died tragically on October 28th in University College Galway.  

I have a few problems with this article.  Why was it considered an appropriate topic for inclusion in the Gazette, given the fact that an investigation is currently underway and the results are awaited?  Newspapers can't report on legal cases before they come before the courts for fear that the Defendant will claim that his right to a fair trial has been prejudiced.  Why wasn't the same consideration applied here? Surely the editors of the Gazette were aware of the way in which Savita's tragedy has become part of the national debate on abortion?  Yet they chose to print an article which allowed the solicitor involved to broadcast his own views on the matter.  In fact, the Gazette allowed him to canvass his case without any thought for the fact that this implies a clear bias on the part of the editors:-

"It was disappointing that some politicians sought to coerce my client to partake in a process in which he had absolutely no faith or trust."

"I would have hoped that the Government would have responded promptly and efficiently to my client's request for a full public inquiry, but unfortunately, this has not yet happened."

But perhaps the most worrying aspect of this article is the way in which it highlights the way in which the media was used throughout.  The solicitor himself admits on several occasions throughout the article that media manipulation allowed him to stage-manage the way in which the case was handled:-

"I had some experience of working with the media.  I have always had an interest in human rights and in the equal treatment of all persons.  I realised this case would benefit from sustained exposure in the media rather than a one-off media 'storm', and so we chose to release information to the media more slowly in order to ensure that the case would have continued momentum.  This certainly worked."

"A case such as this highlights just how important the media is in society.  The interest in the case could not be achieved simply by writing letters."

It is hard to read these comments without being amazed at the fact that the solicitor involved sees nothing wrong with ensuring a "drip-feed" of information to the media - something which we have seen result in near-hysteria during the weeks following Savita's death.  To act in such a way over an issue of vital importance like abortion is grossly irresponsible.  It is also quite remarkable that the editors of the Gazette would see fit to publish this piece.  By revealing the way in which the media was controlled during this fraught and tragic case, they have confirmed what many suspected but few were able to prove.  Gerard O'Donnell's own words do not lie.  

Unfortunately, they also reveal a more fundamental problem in society - the fact that the media is being placed above everyone.  Cases involving human tragedy are played out in the most public forum possible.  Maximum attention is sought and ensured, thus denying the general public the opportunity to have a calm and rational response.  And what happens now, when we don't even have the results of the investigation?  Those responsible for dripping the information to us are heralded by their own professional Body, and given even more exposure!  

Perhaps the Law Society should bear in mind the comment that my friend made to me - the fees for membership of this organisation increase annually.  For a pro-life solicitor like him, one-sided articles like this one really stick in the craw, not to mention the wallet.
I'm a celebrity lawyer ... get me out of here!


  1. There is no court case even pending which would prevent the Gazette from publishing the article. I would have thought that your “solicitor friend” could have told you that.The investigation is an examination on the medical aspects of the case and there isn't even a lawyer on the commitee. This idea of not even mentioning the #Savita case reminds me of the steps taken by Cardinal Sean Brady some years back, when he swore children to secrecy in order to cover up the abuse of Brendan Smyth.

    1. There is no mention of any court case, or any suggestion that the Gazette is legally prevented from publishing this article. My point throughout is that it was an unwise move, which is something quite different. It is unwise because Savita's tragedy deserves time and space and a proper investigation. Asking the solicitor involved to recount his methods for procuring the most media attention for his case is inappropriate, particularly given the concerns of many that Savita's death will be used as a reason to introduce abortion, regardless of whether an abortion would actually have saved her life.

      Why bring up child sex abuse? What does this have to do with Savita? Or abortion? Or the Law Society? Please stay on topic in any further comments you wish to leave.