Leech v Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd

CourtSupreme Court
JudgeMs. Justice Dunne
Judgment Date19 December 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] IESC 78
Docket Number[S.C. No. 260 of 2007],[Appeal No. 260/2007]
Date19 December 2014

[2014] IESC 78

Murray J., McKechnie J., Dunne J.

[Appeal No. 260/2007]


Jury – Defamation – Jury Directions – Appeal – Recharge of Jury – Fair Trial – Procedure – Libel – Jury Bias

The appellant in this case, Mrs. leech had previously brought a claim for damages stemming from an alleged Defamation of her character. The Defamation in question concerned the publication of allegations by the defendant, Independent Newspapers Limited, that she had been involved in an extra- marital affair with a TD in exchange for a well-paid and beneficial contract. The defamation had gone to Jury Trial but subsequently the proceedings were dismissed in accordance with the verdict of the jury. The appellant, disgruntled by the verdict subsequently appealed the verdict of the jury. The appeal came before Murray J., McKechnie J., Dunne J. residing in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered the decision reached at the Jury Trial and the Submissions from the appellant. The Jury trial resulted in a finding that the article in question didn’t bear the meaning that the appellant had an affair with the TD or that she had performed oral sex on him in exchange for benefits. The appellants submitted the trial Judge erred in law because no reasonable person could believe that the verdict was properly reached in the circumstances where it was arrived at on foot of a charge to the jury that the learned trial judge himself accepted was in error. The appellant contended that the Judge’s error prejudiced her case. The appellant’s main contention was that the jury did not spend any lengthy period of time reconsidering their verdict following a re-charge by the Judge and that there was evidence of Jury bias. Counsel on behalf of the Newspaper submitted that on an objective assessment of the facts there was no basis for any case of real or perceived bias on the part of the jury. The Supreme court recognized that in the circumstances there was a danger, in the sense of a possibility, that by the time of the final re-charge by the learned trial judge, the jury had already made up their minds and had done so on the basis of an erroneous charge. The court was satisfied that the verdict of the jury was unsafe on this ground. Accordingly the court allowed the appeal.

Appeal allowed.

Ms. Justice Dunne
Judgment of Ms. Justice Dunne delivered on the 19th day of December 2014.

The plaintiff/appellant (Ms. Leech) is a married woman with two sons. For a period of time prior to the commencement of these proceedings, she worked as a communications consultant advising the OPW and subsequently, the Department of the Environment. The Minister for the Environment from 2002 until 2004 was Martin Cullen, TD. Ms. Leech became the subject of widespread media coverage around November and December 2004 concerning her work with the Department.


On the 16th December, 2004, RTE Radio 1 broadcast as usual the Liveline programme, a live phone-in programme which involves members of the public phoning in and speaking to its presenter live on radio. That day, a caller to the programme identifying himself as “Norman” made a number of comments on live radio suggesting that Ms. Leech was performing sexual favours for the Minister for the Environment as part of her job. The following day, an article bearing the headline “Gasps and Blushes as Norman turns Joe’s show into Vileline’” appeared in the Irish Independent newspaper published by the defendant/respondent. The article contained an account of the conversation between “Norman” and the presenter of the programme, Joe Duffy, save that in the article some of the words spoken by Norman were edited. It would be useful to refer to a short passage from the article which appeared in the edition of the Irish Independent for Friday, 17th December, 2004:

“During a discussion on the rights and wrongs of her appointment to the €127,775 – year – job, presenter Joe Duffy took a call from a person who called himself Norman and who said he was from Cork and a member of the Progressive Democrats.

Norman: ‘Well I think Martin Cullen has done a good job. And Monica Leech, for all we know, is not being overpaid at all.’

Joe interjected: ‘Keep defending.’

Norman: ‘We really don’t know what she’s been doing anyway. Maybe she’s been doing other things for him besides constituency work – maybe she’s ‘s…. his c….’.”


Joe Duffy, immediately cutting in: ‘We’ll cut the line’. An advertisement break followed.


Last night, RTE said it disassociated itself from ‘Comments made on today’s Liveline in relation to Martin Cullen and Monica Leech and to apologise for any offence caused’. …”


Ms. Leech issued proceedings claiming damages for defamation against the defendant/respondent (hereinafter referred to as “the Newspaper”) on the 10th February, 2005. Following an exchange of pleadings the proceedings ultimately came on for hearing before a judge and jury on the 26th June, 2007. The proceedings were dismissed on the 28th June, 2007 in accordance with the verdict of the jury which found that:

(a) The article did not bear the meaning that the plaintiff, a married woman, had had adulterous relations with Minister Martin Cullen.

(b) The article did not bear the meaning that the plaintiff, a married woman, had performed deeply intimate sexual favours, namely oral sex, for Minister Martin Cullen for the sake of a well paid and beneficial contract.

Grounds of appeal


Ms. Leech has appealed from the verdict of the jury and the order made on foot of the verdict on a number of grounds which can be summarised as follows:

(a) No reasonable person and in particular Ms. Leech, could believe that the verdict was properly reached in circumstances where it was arrived at on foot of a charge to the jury which the learned trial judge himself accepted was in error.

(b) The trial was, in any event, unsatisfactory as a result of erroneous rulings of the learned trial judge which prejudiced Ms. Leech.

(c) The learned trial judge failed to discharge the jury when he ought to have done so on the request of Ms. Leech.

The pleadings


In order to understand the issues in the case, it is necessary to make some reference to the pleadings. Ms. Leech in the statement of claim pleaded that the article complained of in its natural and ordinary meaning bore the meanings, inter alia, that Ms. Leech had had an extramarital affair with the Minister, that she had had adulterous sexual relations with the Minister and that she had prostituted herself for the sake of a well paid and beneficial contract. The Newspaper in its defence as originally pleaded denied the meanings contended for by Ms. Leech and went on to plead justification as follows:

“5. Further or in the alternative, the defendant pleads that the said material, in its natural and ordinary meaning, but not in the meanings pleaded by the plaintiff, was true in substance and in fact.”


The conversation described in the article took place between the presenter and the caller to RTE’s Liveline show. RTE and the presenter reacted in the manner described, and made the statements described, in the article. The balance of the article is also true.”


There was also a plea of fair comment in which the matter of public interest was stated to be the failure by a national broadcaster to prevent the airing of inappropriate material. Finally there was a plea of qualified privilege to the effect that “The material was published on an occasion of qualified privilege pursuant to the Constitution and/or at common law”.


Arising out of a motion before the High Court (O’Donovan J.) on the 21st November, 2005, an amended defence was delivered containing the following plea of justification:

“Further or in the alternative the defendant pleads that the said material, in its natural and ordinary meaning but not in the meanings pleaded by the plaintiff was true in substance and in fact.


The defendant pleads that the article bears the following natural and ordinary meaning:

(a) That a caller to RTE’s Liveline had made offensive remarks about the plaintiff and Martin Cullen and that RTE and the programme’s presenter had immediately apologised for, and disassociated themselves from, those remarks.

In support of the above plea, the defendant relies on the fact that the conversation reported in the article took place and that RTE and the presenter reacted in the manner described and made the statements described in the article. The defendant also relies on the other matters of fact as set out in the article.”


Thus, when the case came on for trial, the Newspaper relied on defences of justification, fair comment, and qualified privilege.

RTE proceedings


Ms. Leech also brought proceedings against RTE arising out of the broadcast and those proceedings were compromised by Ms. Leech and RTE in terms that an apology to Ms. Leech was read out in court and a substantial sum by way of damages was paid to her. An order was also made for the payment of her costs of those proceedings, to be taxed in default of agreement.

The trial


At the commencement of the trial and before the case was opened to the jury, a number of legal issues were canvassed before the learned trial judge. In the course of legal argument it was indicated to the Court on behalf of the Newspaper that it no longer wished to rely on the defence of fair comment.


Secondly, it was made clear that the Newspaper did not wish to put forward the defence of justification as such, rather it was intended to rely on the particulars furnished under the heading of “Justification” in the amended defence to the effect that there had been a broadcast in...

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3 cases
  • Paidraig Higgins v The Irish Aviation Authority
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    • 7 March 2022
    ...Newspapers Plc. [1999] 4 I.R. 432, and the judgment of Dunne J. for this Court in Leech v. Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd. [2014] IESC 78, [2015] 2 I.R. 178 where she referred to the “considerable weight” to be afforded to an assessment of damages by a jury, and that a decision to set......
  • Ryanair DAC v Van Zwol
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    ...of a possibility, that a verdict was unsafe. The authority relied upon in support of this submission is Leech v. Independent Newspapers [2014] IESC 78. 42 The defendant newspaper published an article reporting on a RTE radio programme broadcast the previous day called “Liveline” in which a ......
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