Thomas Talbot v Hermitage Golf Club and Others

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr Justice Charleton,Denham C.J.
Judgment Date09 October 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] IESC 57
CourtSupreme Court
Date09 October 2014
Talbot v Hermitage Golf Club
An Chúirt Uachtatach
Composition of the Court:
Between/
Thomas Talbot
Plaintiff/Appellant

and

Hermitage Golf Club
The Golfing Union of Ireland, and Eddie Murphy
Defendants/Respondents

[2014] IESC 57

Denham C.J.

Hardiman J.

Charleton J.

Appeal No. 223/2014
Record number 492P/2012
Appeal number 223/2014

THE SUPREME COURT

Defamation – Conspiracy – Damages – Plaintiff seeking damages for defamation and conspiracy – Whether the trial was satisfactory

Facts: The plaintiff, Mr Talbot, joined the first defendant, Hermitage Golf Club, in 1962. He travelled around Ireland and submitted to the handicap sub-committee of the Club several score cards during the years 2002-2003. Adjustments were made on analysis of the relevant returns which resulted in multiple adjustments of his playing handicap. Mr Talbot challenged the changes to his handicap. The second defendant, the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI), regulates this sport in Ireland. There were two audits in consecutive years of the handicapping system by the Leinster branch of the GUI which covered the 2002 and the 2003 playing seasons. Mr Talbot appealed to the Supreme Court from the High Court judgment ([2012] IEHC 372), wherein his claim for damages against the defendants for defamation and for conspiracy was dismissed. Every finding of fact of the trial judge was disputed by Mr Talbot. He pleaded that there was evidence that he was defamed as to the integrity of his golf handicap. He claimed that a conspiracy to destroy his character was effected successfully by a combination of all of the defendants, the Club, its handicap committee member and chairman Eddie Murphy (the third defendant) and the GUI. During the years 2001-2003, Mr Talbot believed that he had uncovered sharp practice in terms of finance and also waste of resources at the Club. He alleged that it was because of the risk of him drawing that to the attention of the wider membership of the club, and outside the club, that the alleged conspiracy formed. A general claim was also mounted by Mr Talbot that the trial was unsatisfactory. Mr Talbot put his allegation of conspiracy on a multiplicity of factors. These included three letters of complaint following upon the annual general meeting of 2004 which Mr Talbot alleged were directed by officers of the Club; that the GUI conducted audits in 2003 and 2004 in order to whitewash what Mr Talbot regarded as the attack on him; that everything that was done as regards his handicap was for the purpose of giving him an evil reputation; that solicitors letters emanating from the Club and from the GUI showed collusion; and that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him for improper reasons. The trial judge found that the letters had been written by the writers spontaneously and entirely of their own volition. The judge held that the audits were decided upon, initiated and completed without any involvement from the Club. The judge decided that there had been publication of the handicap building note to a computer programmer from the Genesys firm, holding that this limited communication to the computer programmer was on an occasion of qualified privilege.

Held by Charleton J that, having considered the law on defamation as contained in Quigley v Creation Ltd [1971] IR 269, it was recited and ostensibly applied in the judgment of the trial judge. Charleton J held that the judge”s findings were based on a solid foundation of fact; none of the witnesses called by Mr Talbot agreed with any allegation of malice, ill-will, spite or conspiracy that he put to them. Charleton J considered that there was abundant evidence that no-one in the Club could ever have been motivated by anything other than disappointment. Charleton J held that the finding on publication was soundly based; there was no evidence that malice attended the communication. He held that it was impossible to fault the trial judge in his analysis of the law and there was nothing in his application of that law to the facts that could be regarded as in error or as being unsupported by evidence. He held that there was no evidence that anyone wished for any detriment to Mr Talbot, much less tried to set about damaging his legitimate interests. Charleton J held that the conduct of the trial was such that no reasonable person could have imagined that the court was intent on any other exercise than the most complete analysis of the facts.

Charleton J held that the conduct of the trial judge was exemplary; his summary of the law was unimpeachable; his findings of fact were in each case supported by more than ample evidence. Charleton J dismissed the appeal.

Appeal dismissed.

EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS & FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS ART 6.1

BUCHHOLZ v GERMANY 1981 3 EHRR 597

PRICE AND LOWE v UNITED KINGDOM UNREP 29.7.2003 2003 ECHR 409

MITCHELL v UNITED KINGDOM 2003 36 EHRR 52

MCMULLEN v IRELAND UNREP 29.7.2004 2004 ECHR 404

GILROY v FLYNN 2005 1 ILRM 290 2004/19/4269 2004 IESC 98

CRUISE v JUDGE O'DONNELL & DPP 2008 3 IR 230 2008 2 ILRM 187 2007/12/2421 2007 IESC 67

TALBOT v HERMITAGE GOLF CLUB & ORS UNREP HERBERT 27.7.2012 2012 IEHC 372

HAY v O'GRADY 1992 1 IR 210 1992 ILRM 689 1992/2/502

CONSTITUTION ART 34.4.3

QUIGLEY v CREATION LTD 1971 IR 269

RUBBER IMPROVEMENT LTD & ANOR v DAILY TELEGRAPH LTD 1964 AC 234 1963 2 WLR 1063 1963 2 AER 151

GRIFFIN v SUNDAY NEWSPAPERS LTD 2012 1 ILRM 260 2011/24/6186 2011 IEHC 331

MCGARTH v INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS (IRL) LTD 2004 2 IR 425 2004/34/7876 2004 IEHC 67

HENWOOD v HARRISON 1871-72 7 LR CP 606

WRIGHT v WOODGATE 150 ER 244 1835 2 CR M & R 573

HARRIS v ARNOTT 1890 26 LR IR 55

HORROCKS v LOWE 1975 AC 135 1974 2 WLR 282 1974 1 AER 662

IARNROD EIREANN (IRISH RAIL) v HOLBROOKE & IRISH LOCOMOTIVE DRIVERS ASSOCIATION (ILDA) 2000 ELR 109 1999/14/3918 2000 IEHC 47

TREATY ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION ART 101

TREATY ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION ART 102

BOSTON v WS BAGSHAW & SONS 1966 1 WLR 1126 1966 2 AER 906

CONSTITUTION ART 40.3

TUOHY v COURTNEY 1994 3 IR 1 1992/13/4268

IBB INTERNET SERVICES LTD & ORS v MOTOROLA LTD UNREP CHARLETON 19.11.2013 2013/25/7460 2013 IEHC 541

1

Judgment delivered on the 9th day of October, 2014, by Denham C.J.

2

Judgment of Mr Justice Charleton delivered on the 9th day of October 2014

3

Judgment delivered by Denham C.J. & Charleton J.

4

1. I agree with the judgment to be delivered by Mr. Justice Charleton, both the reasons given and the order proposed. Charleton J. has pointed out that delivery of this judgment today will constitute the 83 rd day that the resources of the High Court and the Supreme Court have been directed towards this claim. There are some observations that I wish to make regarding case management.

5

2. The traditional practice in common law legal systems was that it was the parties and their lawyers who set the pace of a case. The courts did not intervene by actively managing the progress of the litigation process. This approach reflected the dominant laissez-faire attitude of the nineteenth century.

6

3. However, with the growth in the volume of litigation and the increasing complexity of cases, it became apparent that judges presiding in the courts must begin to proactively case manage cases and adopt case management practices and procedures.

7

4. Case management in civil litigation was developed in England and Wales in the mid 1990s. In Ireland an early initiative to introduce case management began in June 1996 by way of a High Court practice direction concerning personal injuries actions in which liability was not in dispute.

8

5. The adoption of case management in England and Wales came to the fore when the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, submitted two reports entitled Access to Justice, Interim Report, to the Lord Chancellor on the civil justice system in England and Wales (June 1995) and a Final Report (July 1996). Lord Woolf observed that:

"Case management… involves the court taking the ultimate responsibility for progressing litigation along a chosen track for a pre determined period during which it is subjected to selected procedures which culminate in an appropriate form of resolution before a suitably experienced judge. Its overall purpose is to encourage settlement of disputes at the earliest appropriate stage; and, where trial is unavoidable, to ensure that cases proceed as quickly as possible to a final hearing which is itself of strictly limited duration."

9

6. There is also jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights on the effect of Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and this has impacted on the traditional approach in common law jurisdictions, where the parties controlled the movement of a case through the courts system. Article 6.1 provides that:

"In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law...."

10

7. The European Court of Human Rights has heard a number of cases concerning delays in disposition of cases by national courts. In Buchholz v. Germany [1981] ECHR 2, it found that:

"…the Convention places a duty on the Contracting States to organise their legal systems so as to allow the courts to comply with the requirements of Article 6 par.1, including that of trial within a 'reasonable time.'"

11

8. When considering how proceedings before all civil courts in Germany are governed by the principle of the conduct of the litigation by the parties, the Court considered that such factors:

"do not dispense the judicial authorities from ensuring the trial of the action expeditiously as...

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