“Correction to a long-standing anomaly”

NewsBrands Ireland statement: recommendations for reform of defamation laws will see juries abolished in defamation cases

1 March 2022. The proposal to abolish the use of juries in civil defamation trials has been welcomed by NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for Irish news media publishers.

Commenting on the Report, Colm O’ Reilly, Chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, and CEO of the Business Post, said:

“The move to abolish juries from civil defamation trials is a correction of a long-standing anomaly in Irish law; defamation is virtually the only civil action that continues to be decided by juries. The use of juries can result in unpredictable levels of awards as well as considerably lengthening the duration of the trial, thus increasing legal costs.

We also welcome the recommendation to introduce a new ‘anti-SLAPP’ mechanism. The threat of being sued has a chilling effect on investigative journalism with high profile individuals regularly using our current laws to suppress stories which are in the public interest.”

Ireland’s defamation laws are among the most restrictive in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world. They have been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and recently by the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, who said:

“Ireland’s defamation laws should be reviewed as they may suppress the ability of the media to expose corruption…. The laws are notoriously strict, providing a low bar for lawsuits against journalists and media organisations that are often used to “put pressure on journalists.”

NewsBrands Ireland regrets the Report does not recommend a cap on damages, and also recommends against there being a general requirement for someone to show serious harm was caused by a publication of a statement. NewsBrands Ireland has always maintained that, along with the abolition of juries, it is crucial that there should be a cap on damages, and a ‘serious harm’ test:

The ‘Serious harm’ test , already successfully in operation in the UK, discourages trivial claims that can chill free expression and inundate Irish courts with lengthy and costly court cases. Claimants who do not meet the test still have the option to take their case to the Office of Press Ombudsman or the new Media Commission.

Cap on damages. Damages in Ireland are much higher – often multiples of the equivalent awards in Europe. The Act should set a cap on court awards as is the practice in a personal injury actions.

Mr O’Reilly concluded “the review of the defamation laws gives government a real opportunity here to show their support for press freedom and provide a more balanced and fairer process for the resolution of defamation claims.”

For further details, Read NewsBrands Ireland submission to the Review of the Defamation Act