Damian Jeffery v Minister for Justice
|Mr. Justice Barrett
|28 February 2014
| IEHC 99
|[2011 No. 9412 P]
|28 February 2014
 IEHC 99
THE HIGH COURT
DEFAMATION ACT 2009 S17(2)
LOONEY v BANK OF IRELAND & MOREY UNREP SUPREME 9.5.1997 2000/11/4377
EVANS v LONDON HOSPITAL MEDICAL COLLEGE (UNIVERSITY OF LONDON) & ORS 1981 1 WLR 184 1981 1 AER 715
KENNEDY v HILLIARD 1859 10 ICLR 195
MACCABE v JOYNT 1901 2 IR 115
Tort law - Defamation - Immunity - Road traffic offences - District Court - Information to Court - Extension of immunity - Whether immunity from defamation that arose in court proceedings could extend to other forms of action.
Facts: The plaintiff was convicted of certain road traffic offences in the District Court and a member of An Garda Siochana informed the Court incorrectly that the plaintiff had been convicted of serious offences. He instituted proceedings for negligence and breach of duty. The Court considered whether immunity from defamation that arose in court proceedings extended to other forms of action.
Held by Barrett J. that the action of the plaintiff had to fail. It was a long-standing feature of the Irish law of defamation that acts done prior to court proceedings attracted the same privilege clothing later proceedings. There was no reason why that principle would not apply in the instant case.
1. This case centres on whether the immunity from defamation that arises in court proceedings extends to other forms of action also.
2. On 9 th December, 2010, the plaintiff, Mr. Jeffery, was convicted at Sligo District Court of certain road traffic offences. Before Mr. Jeffery was sentenced, a member of An Garda Síochána informed the Court that Mr. Jeffery had previously been convicted of a number of serious offences. In fact, the person who committed those offences was another person by the same name. The Mr. Jeffery who was before the District Court and who is the plaintiff in these proceedings had no previous convictions. Mr. Jeffery's solicitor indicated to the District Court that an error had been made and sentencing proceeded without regard to the mistaken information. The District Court therefore had publicly accepted the correction. Subsequently, the erroneous list of convictions was reported prominently in the local media. There is no suggestion that what occurred before Sligo District Court was done with any malice by the member of An Garda Síochána and the court accepts that it was not. Nor is it suggested that the State was in any way complicit in the media attention that followed the District Court proceedings.
3. Since 2011, the solicitors for Mr. Jeffery have variously sought that An Garda Síochána apologise for the error that arose at Sligo District Court, compensate Mr. Jeffery and clarify matters before a further sitting of the Sligo District Court. Eventually, on 20 th October, 2011, Mr Jeffery's solicitors issued a plenary summons seeking damages for negligence, breach of duty and negligent misrepresentation on the part of the defendants, jointly and severally, their respective servants or agents. Correspondence continued between the parties and just over a year later, on 6 th December, 2012, the Chief State Solicitor's Office issued a letter forwarding a 'Statement of Regret' from An Garda Síochána. It might perhaps be contended that this was too little, too late. Certainly the State's continuing refusal to provide a corrective statement before Sligo District Court in the particular circumstances that arose is suggestive of unbecoming obduracy. Indeed there seems no reason why the provision of such a statement might not yet be done or why such a course of action might not in the future be considered where a mistake of the sort in issue in this case leads to the acute embarrassment, anxiety and distress that Mr. Jeffery claims to have suffered. In any event, in the present case Mr. Jeffery does not consider that such private correspondence as issued to him from An Garda Síochána is an adequate response to the public injury that he claims has been done to him. So, he has continued his High Court proceedings.
4. Given that the crux of the issue arising between the parties is the words spoken at Sligo District Court, it might perhaps be contended that it is surprising that, having decided to sue the defendants, Mr. Jeffery did not commence an action in defamation. A possible answer as to why he did not sue the State for defamation is that such an action would undoubtedly have failed. Section 17(2) of the Defamation Act 2009 establishes absolute privilege in circumstances where, inter alia, the offending statement is made by a party, witness or legal representative in the course of proceedings presided over by a judge. The Sligo District Court proceedings were clearly proceedings presided over by a judge and the member of An Garda Síochána who presented the purported criminal record did so, as the defendants' legal submissions put it, either as an agent of the Director of Public Prosecutions or as a witness. Thus, section 17(2) applies to what occurred and an action in defamation would fail. However, Mr. Jeffery is seeking damages for negligence, breach of duty and negligent misrepresentation and section 17(2) is only of relevance to a defamation action. Can an action for negligence and breach of duty succeed where an action in defamation would have failed? To answer this question the court has had regard to a number of cases that address the rationale for and the ambit of the privilege that arises within the ambit of court proceedings.
To continue readingRequest your trial
Jeffrey v The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence
...the proceedings were bound to fail. For reasons set out in a judgment of Barrett J. ( Jeffrey v. Minister for Justice and Equality & ors.  IEHC 99,  3 I.R. 508), the High Court acceded to the State's application and the proceedings were 1.4 Mr. Jeffrey then appealed to this Cour......
J.D.F. v C.F.
...... Mr. Justice Henry Abbott granted a decree of divorce to the parties. The Court ......
Sheehan (an Infant) v Corr
...MacCabe v Joynt  2 IR 115 and Marrinan v Vibart  1 QB 528 considered - Claim dismissed (2011/9412P - Barrett J - 28/2/2014)  IEHC 99 Jeffery v Minister for Justice and Equality 2009/10344P - Kearns - High - 27/2/2015 - 2015 IEHC 99 Facts: The appellant had applied for an o......
R.C. v K.E.
...view of the law seems to me to be consonant with the views expressed by Barrett J. in Jeffery v. The Minister for Justice and Equality  IEHC 99 which was not a defamation case but concerned the issue of immunity from suit in respect of statements made by witnesses in the course of pre......