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Ex Parte

In Ireland, speaking generally, legal proceedings take the form of a contest. The contest is conducted according to rules, but a contest it is.

Contests do not guarantee proper, fair outcomes but they are superior to the alternative, no hearing to one (or more) party.

The phrase to describe such hearings without a party on notice is “ex parte”.

It refers to a court application brought by one person in the absence of and without representation by, or notification to, other parties.

In principle, such an application is a breach of fair procedures (as secured by the Irish Constitution) (and the European Convention on Human Rights).

Article 6.1 of the Convention reads:

In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

Nevertheless, such applications take place and courts make orders pursuant to them. The saving feature is that they are, to be proper, of a strictly temporary nature. The order will (or aught to) be limited in its effect to a time for the hearing of an application (“interlocutory”) (the other party having been notified of the intended application) to continue or renew the order made ex parte.

The applicant party will have notified the respondent party of the making of the order ex parte (and the order will bind the respondent forthwith) as well as giving notification of the date and time for the making of the “interlocutory” application.

Ex parte applications will, generally, be based on evidence presented in, say, affidavit form. It can happen that, subsequently, the evidence so presented is shown to be false or mistaken or generally unreliable.

For this reason a court has to be very careful in making orders ex parte. The absolute necessity for the making of the order without notification to the respondent must be shown. Considerable damage may be inflicted on the respondent, unfairly, by an order restraining the respondent from acting in some matter or fashion.

In addition, the publication of a record of the ex parte proceedings in court may libel the respondent. Under Section 18 (1) of the Defamation Act 1961, newspaper (and radio) publication of transactions in court are privileged, subject to the report being fair and accurate.

Arguably, to report the contents of the grounding affidavit or other allegation and/or the terms of the order, and to fail to report that an application was made ex parte (with an explanation of the meaning of that phrase) is not fair.

If that argument is accepted the report will lose its privilege and the publisher will be liable for the libel.

One Comment

  1. There’s a more succinct definition of ex parte here: