Defamation reform long overdue and very welcome

Published date03 March 2022
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
What matters now is that McEntee, unlike her immediate predecessors in Justice, continues her advocacy for genuine reform and prevails on her political colleagues to ensure the recommendations translate quickly into law

There is, after all, ample evidence that the political will to embrace such reform has been less than enthusiastic for many years, despite international criticism of our libel laws for their impact on freedom of expression, and astronomical awards to claimants by juries - sometimes far in excess of awards for catastrophic personal injuries.

McEntee's report to Cabinet recommending significant changes to our defamation laws followed a review of the 2009 Defamation Act, which should have been carried out in 2014.

Under our defamation laws, we have witnessed: - How it has been frequently, and successfully, exploited by wealthy and powerful individuals and organi

sations to prevent the media from publishing public-interest material they did not want in the public domain. - Juries (who do not sit in defamation trials in most other countries) award damages of €10 million for defamatory comments in a press release. - Another award of €1.87million - subsequently reduced by the Supreme Court to €1.25 million - and later appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and found to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a right to freedom of expression. However, the award still stood and was over nine times the maximum payment in a personal injuries case for the total loss of an eye. - The emergence of defamation tourism from abroad because our laws are seen as a soft touch and offer a far greater chance of successful claims than other countries. - A growth in "transient defamation", where businesses are sued for comments made in the course of providing or refusing services, such as questioning in relation to suspected shoplifting.

NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for Ireland's national news publishers, has lobbied for many years for the reform of the most repressive and egregious aspects of the 2009 Act, highlighting the chilling effect it has on the media's role as the public's watchdog and its ability to reveal matters of important public interest.

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Despite the existence of the Press Council, publishers report that many plaintiffs choose instead to pursue the legal route as very often the prevailing view is that there is nothing to lose as the likelihood is the publisher will invariably...

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