The Courts Service Annual Report 2017 was published by the Courts Service on 17 July 2018 and shows a significant increase in the number of defamation claims in the Courts.
The number of claims taken in the High Court increased from 133 in 2016 to 152 in 2017, while the number of defamation claims entered in the Circuit Court increased from 73 in 2016 to 135 in 2017.
The more dramatic increase of 85 per cent in the number of defamation claims reported in the Circuit Court may be attributed to two main factors, as noted recently in The Irish Times.
The most obvious contributing factor is the increase in the monetary jurisdiction for Circuit Court cases in 2014 from 38,000 to 75,000.
Social media is also likely to be fuelling the rise. This is because people can publish remarks without going through the checks that would be in place in a traditional media organisation, which increases the risk that defamatory material will be published. Experience shows that people often publish material on social media without considering the legal implications of what they are publishing.
The increase in Circuit Court cases may be following a trend seen in the UK, where there was a rise in actions over alleged defamatory comments made on social media. Defamation cases arising from social media make up approximately ten per cent of defamation cases in the UK. However, that trend has reversed in the UK where the number of cases has fallen in the last three years. This decline is likely to be attributable at least in part due to changes to the UK Defamation Act in 2013 that required defamation claimants to prove that a publication has caused or was likely to cause them "serious harm". Such a threshold does not exist in Ireland.
The spike in the number of defamation claims brought in the Circuit Court in particular may have been contributed to by claimants becoming aware that Irish Courts are prepared to award significant damages for defamatory material published on social media.
Recent "social media" defamation decisions in the Circuit Courts
A number of recent Circuit Court decisions have seen up to 75,000 awarded in damages.
One such case came before Monaghan Circuit Court and involved an allegedly defamatory item on Facebook which suggested that the national director of Ireland's game shooting body had caused the organisation to go "broke".
A Co Monaghan man had posted the item on Facebook on or about 22 December 2015, and has been ordered to pay75,000...