Ewins v Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeKeaneC.J.
Judgment Date06 March 2003
Neutral Citation2003 WJSC-SC 4763
Date06 March 2003
Docket Number[S.C. No. 24 of 2002]
CourtSupreme Court
EWINS v. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS (IRL) LTD & ANOR

BETWEEN

EWINS
PLAINTIFF

AND

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS (IRELAND) LIMITED &ANOR.
DEFENDANT

2003 WJSC-SC 4763

Keane C.J.

McGuinness J.

Geoghegan J.

24/02

THE SUPREME COURT

Synopsis:

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE

Delay

Libel - Defamation - Litigation - Want of prosecution - Prejudice - Whether plaintiff guilty of inordinate and inexcusable delay - Whether proceedings should be struck out (24/2002 - Supreme Court - 06/03/2003)

Ewins v Independent Newspapers - [2003] 1 IR 583

The plaintiff had instituted libel proceedings against the defendants arising out of an article which appeared in a newspaper. The article claimed that the plaintiff had links with the IRA. The article was published after a television programme was aired which featured the said allegation. The plenary summons was issued in 1995 and the notice of intention to proceed was not issued until November of 2000. The defendant sought to have the action struck out on the basis of inordinate and inexcusable delay. The motion was refused by McKechnie J in the High Court and the defendants appealed. A crucial witness to the proceedings had been murdered since the proceedings were initiated.

Held by the Supreme Court (Keane CJ delivering judgment; McGuinness J and Geoghegan J agreeing) in allowing the appeal and dismissing the plaintiff's proceedings. The relevant period of delay in this instance was five years which was an inordinate period of delay. The delay was also inexcusable and the balance of justice was in favour of striking out proceedings.

Citations:

PRIMOR PLC V STOKES KENNEDY CROWLEY 1996 2 IR 459

RAINSFORD V LIMERICK CORPORATION 1995 2 ILRM 561

1

6th day of March, 2003 by KeaneC.J.

KeaneC.J.
2

This is an appeal from a judgment and order of the High Court (Mr. Justice McKechnie), in which he refused an application on behalf of the defendants for the striking out of the proceedings on the ground that the plaintiff had been guilty of inordinate and inexcusable delay in prosecuting the proceedings.

3

The proceedings take the form of an action for damages for libel. They arise out of the publication of an article in the Irish Independent published by the first named defendants and written by the second named defendant, which appeared on April 19 th 1995. The article was in turn published not long after a programme had been broadcast in theUnitedKingdom on independent television on the 18 th April 1995. It would appear, at least it is common case so far as the application to the High Court and the appeal to this court is concerned, that that programme was produced by Carlton Television and contained a number of claims by a person who had formally been a member of the provisional IRA, Mr. Eamon Collins. It is accepted, again it is common case, that the articles of which the plaintiff complains, were based on statements made by Mr. Collins during the course of the television programme and they are said to have included an allegation that a former Queen's University lecturer, then living in Dublin had played a major role in an assassination attempt on the then Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The plaintiff in these proceedings, says that this article referred to him and meant or was understood to mean, that he encouraged Mr. Collins to join the IRA, that he encouraged him to embark on a career of murder and other terrorist activities, that he had been a source of intelligence for the IRA, that he had leaked to the IRA details of a visit by the Lord Chief Justice to Queen's University, Belfast, and had tried to assist in his murder and that he was aware of the involvement of Mr. Collins in the IRA but did not inform the appropriate authorities.

4

The plenary summons was issued on the 8 th December 1995 and that followed a letter of complaint from the plaintiffs' solicitorswhichwas sent to the editor of the Irish Independent on 23 rdNovember 1995. It effectively made those allegations or said that the article was clearly intended to refer to their client and made the allegations concerned of. The letter was responded to on the13 th December 1995 by the defendants then solicitors in which they said that they did not accept the reports were defamatory of him and that they denied any legal liability to the plaintiff and they wenton

"Further as you are aware, the references which your client complains were based upon the contents of a television programme entitled "Confession" broadcast on the ITV network on the evening of 18 th April 1995. Your client has already commenced proceedings against the programme makers and broadcasters of the programme over the contents. In these circumstances, our clients are of the view that any liability in this case rests with the makers and publishers of the broadcast which is the subject matter of their report and that any proceedings brought by your clients against our clients would be entirely subsumed by those proceedings. We confirm, however, that we have authority to accept service ofproceedings on behalf of Independent Newspapers Ireland Limited and Bernard Purcell."

5

That as I have said, was followed by the issuing of the plenary summons on the 8 th December 1995. An appearance was entered by the solicitors for the defendants on the 24 th January 1996, which requested the delivery of the statement of claim. There was then a motion to amend the title of the proceedings, as the name of the second named defendant had been inadvertently wrongly given and that motion was dealt with by consent on the 26 th February 1996.

6

Thereafter on the plaintiff's side, no further steps were taken in the action until the 20 th November 2000, at which stage they served notice of intention to proceed. They brought a motion for judgment on the 8 th February 2001 but in fact no statement of claim had been delivered at that stage. The statement of claim was then delivered on the 14 th February 2001, although it appear that there had been no order extending the time for its delivery or any consent to its extension. On the 23 rd March 2001, the defendants brought the present motion seeking an order dismissing the plaintiff's claim for want of prosecution or in the alternative, pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction of the court on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay on the part of the plaintiff in prosecuting the action.

7

It should be pointed out that in the meantime on the 27 thJanuary 1999, Mr. Collins was murdered, so, as it is not in dispute, a witness who clearly would be of critical importance in the proceedings as from that time, was no longer available. In the High Court, the High Court Judge said that he was of the view that the appropriate period of delay which he had to consider in this case was from the date when there was an...

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1 firm's commentaries
  • An Intolerable Level Of Delay?
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    • Mondaq Ireland
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    ...the litigation. Footnotes 1 [2014] IEHC 304. 2 [1996] 2 IR 459. 3 Citing Keane CJ in Ewins v Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Lts [2003] 1 IR 583, at 4 [1984] IR 151, Page 157. 5 [2010] IESC 27. 6 [2009] 1 IR 737. 7 Ibid, per Geoghegan J at Page 741, Kearns J at Page 756 and Macken J at Pag......

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