NewsBrands Ireland welcomes the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to uphold a complaint by Independent News & Media (INM) that a €1.25m defamation award amounted to a violation of freedom of expression.
In particular, NewsBrands welcomes the Court’s statement that “unpredictably high damages in libel cases are considered capable of having a chilling effect and they therefore require the most careful scrutiny and very strong justification.”
The Irish defamation regime imposes enormous burdens on Irish newspapers and presents a huge challenge to freedom of expression The retention of juries and the system of appeals creates delays and also a lack of certainty for publishers who have no way to ascertain the extent of their potential liability.
To put the case in perspective, the award in this case was a multiple of the level of awards in extremely serious personal injury cases. Awards made in defamation cases in Ireland are far in excess of other common law countries, including the UK, where, there is an effective cap of £275k (€315k) “but awards at that level are reserved for the gravest of allegations, such as imputations of terrorism or murder.” (Justice Warby in Barron v Vines 2016.)