Travers v Sunday Newspapers Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Hedigan
Judgment Date15 May 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] IEHC 185
CourtHigh Court
Date15 May 2012

[2012] IEHC 185

THE HIGH COURT

[No. 2657 P/2010]
Travers v Sunday Newspapers Ltd

BETWEEN:

SHANE TRAVERS
PLAINTIFF
V.
SUNDAY NEWSPAPERS LIMITED
DEFENDANT

DEFAMATION ACT 2009 S14(1)

DEFAMATION ACT 2009 S14(2)(B)

DEFAMATION ACT 2009 S14(1)(A)

DEFAMATION ACT 2009 S14

MILMO & ROGERS GATLEY ON LIBEL & SLANDER 11ED 2008 103

RAMPTON & ORS DUNCAN & NEILL ON DEFAMATION 3ED 2009 33

JEYNES v NEWS MAGAZINES LTD & ANOR 2008 AER (D) 285 (JAN) 2008 EWCA Civ 130

LOWRY v SMYTH UNREP KEARNS 10.2.2012 2012 IEHC 22

MILMO & ROGERS GATLEY ON LIBEL & SLANDER 11ED 2008 101

QUIGLEY v CREATION LTD 1971 IR 269

MAGEE v MGN LTD UNREP MCKECHNIE 14.11.2003 2004/29/6741

DEFAMATION LAW

Interlocutory application

Imputation - Range of meanings - Test to be applied - Role of jury - Whether statement reasonably capable of bearing imputation pleaded - Whether court entitled to delimit range of meanings of statement - Whether reference to person being under suspicion amounting to inference of guilt - Whether unique role of jury in defamation proceedings to be taken into account - Whether wholly unreasonable to withdraw question of meaning from jury - Quigley v Complex Creation Ltd [1971] IR 269 applied - Magee v MGN Ltd [2003] IEHC 87 (Unrep, McKechnie J, 14/11/2003); Lowry v Smyth [2012] IEHC 22, [2012] 1 IR 400; Lewis v Daily Telegraph Ltd [1964] AC 234; Mapp v Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd [1998] QB 520 and Jeynes v News Magazines Ltd [2008] EWCA Civ 130, (Unrep, CA, 31/1/2008) considered - Defamation Act 2009 (No 31), s 14 - Application refused (2010/2657P - Hedigan J - 15/5/2012) [2012] IEHC 185

Travers v Sunday Newspapers Limited

Facts The plaintiff had been involved in a tiger raid in which a sum of money had been stolen from a bank. It was the plaintiff's position that the robbery had nothing to do with him and that he had been coerced to carry out instructions from a criminal gang. The defendant had published an article which the plaintiff contended had defamed him and initiated proceedings. As part of the defence, it was pleaded inter alia that the material published by the defendant was true in substance and in fact but in its natural and ordinary meanings and not the meanings pleaded by the plaintiff. The defendant brought the present application seeking to have portions of the plaintiff's claim struck out on the basis that certain parts of the article were not reasonably capable of bearing the imputations contended for by the plaintiff. It was submitted that it was for the judge to lay down the limits of the range of the possible defamatory meanings of which the words were capable, and for the jury to determine the actual meaning of the words within that permissible range.

Held by Hedigan J in refusing the application: It was well established that a judge should not withdraw a question of meaning from the jury unless satisfied that it would be "wholly unreasonable" to leave that question to the jury. The fact that the article set out the plaintiff's denial of involvement in the bank robbery did not preclude the plaintiff from alleging the meanings for which he contended. The article when viewed objectively from the viewpoint of the hypothetical "reasonable reader" was capable of giving rise to the meanings contended for at the paragraphs in question and it would be unfairly prejudicial to the plaintiff to prevent the pleas contended for from being put before the jury at the trial of the action.

1

Judgment of Mr. Justice Hedigan delivered the 15th day of May 2012

2

1. The plaintiff resides at 177, Ardilaun, Portmarnock, Co. Dublin. The defendant is a limited liability company, having it's registered office at 5 th Floor, Independent House, 27-31 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.

3

2. The defendant seeks the following relief:-

4

1. An Order pursuant to section 14(1) of the Defamation Act 2009 that the publication by the defendant on 31 st January 2010 which is the subject matter of these proceedings is not reasonably capable of bearing the following imputations contended for by the plaintiff:-

5

(i) The imputation contended for at Paragraph 7 (i) of the Statement of Claim.

6

(ii) The imputation contended for at Paragraph 7 (ii) of the Statement of Claim.

7

(iii) The imputation contended for at Paragraph 7 (v) of the Statement of Claim.

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2. An Order pursuant to section 14(2) b of the Defamation Act 2009, striking out paragraphs 7(i), 7(ii) and 7 (v) of the Statement of Claim, and dismissing the Plaintiff's claim insofar as it relates to those paragraphs, and such further or consequential orders as are necessary.

Background Facts
9

2 3.1 In the substantive proceedings, the plaintiff seeks inter alia damages for defamation in respect of an article published by the defendant on the 31 st January 2010, under the headline "€7.6m tiger raid was nothing to do with me". The proceedings were commenced by way of plenary summons issued on 12 th March 2010. The statement of claim was delivered on the 12 th May 2010. A full defence was delivered by the defendant on the 13 th June 2011. At paragraph 3 of the defence, it is pleaded inter alia that the words and photographs published by the defendant do not bear the meanings set out at paragraph 7 of the statement of claim, save those pleaded at paragraph 7 (iii) and 7 (iv). At paragraph 4 of the defence, it is pleaded inter alia that the material published by the defendant is true in substance and in fact but in its natural and ordinary meanings, and not the meanings pleaded by the plaintiff.

10

The within application is one brought by the Defendant pursuant to s. 14 (1) (a) of the Defamation Act 2009, wherein the defendant seeks orders from this Court that certain of the meanings contended for by the plaintiff at paragraph 7 of the statement of claim are meanings that are not reasonably capable of arising from the publication by the defendant in respect of which the plaintiff sues. That is, of the five meanings contended for by the plaintiff, the defendant maintains that three of those meanings are not reasonably capable of arising there from.

11

3 3.2 Section 14 of the Defamation Act 2009 provides as follows:-

12

2 "14. (1) The court, in a defamation action, may give a ruling:-

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(a) as to whether the statement in respect of which the action was brought is reasonably capable of bearing the imputation pleaded by the plaintiff, and

14

(b) (where the court rules that that statement is reasonably capable of bearing that imputation) as to whether that imputation is reasonably capable of bearing a defamatory meaning, upon an application being made to it in that behalf.

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(2) Where a court rules under subsection (1) that:-

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(a) the statement in respect of which the action was brought is not reasonably capable of bearing the imputation pleaded by the plaintiff, or

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(b) that any imputation so pleaded is not reasonably capable of bearing a defamatory meaning, it shall dismiss the action in so far only as it relates to the imputation concerned.

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(3) An application under this section shall be brought by notice of motion and shall be determined, in the case of a defamation action brought in the High Court, in the absence of the jury.

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(4) An application under this section may be brought at any time after the bringing of the defamation action concerned including during the course of the trial of the action."

20

4 3.3 The plaintiff's statement of claim contends at paragraph 7 that, in its natural and ordinary meaning the impugned publication meant and was understood to mean that:-

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(1) The plaintiff was, in some way, a willing participant in the organization and carrying out of the largest bank heist in the history of the State.

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(2) The plaintiff had in some way benefited and/or gained financially from the bank heist to such an extent as to enable him to enjoy material wealth and riches associated with expensive cars and holidays abroad.

23

(3) The plaintiff was, and remains, suspended from his duties at Bank of Ireland, his place of employment, pending the outcome of a Garda or criminal investigation.

24

(4) The plaintiff had not satisfied his employers that he was not a member of the group or party who had carried out the said bank heist.

25

(5) That the plaintiff had some inside information on the said bank heist which he had not disclosed to persons in authority and/or to An Garda Siochana.

26

The defendant seeks a ruling and an appropriate order pursuant to s.14(1)(a) of the Defamation Act 2009, that the publication by the Defendant on 31 st January, 2010 is not reasonably capable of bearing any of the imputations contended for by the plaintiff at paragraphs 7 (i), 7 (ii) and 7 (v) of the statement of claim.

Defendants Submissions
27

2 4.1 The defendant submits that in an application such as the present, the question of whether a publication is capable of bearing a particular meaning is a question of law for the judge. The procedure set out in section 14 of the Defamation Act 2009 reflects a practice that had existed both in this jurisdiction and in England and Wales, whereby it is for the judge to lay down the limits of the range of the possible defamatory meanings of which the words are capable, and for the jury to determine the actual meaning of the words within that permissible range. It is stated in Gatley on Libel and Slander 11th Edition, at p.103 that:-

"In ruling on meaning, the court is not determining the actual meaning of the words but delimiting the outside boundaries of the possible range of meanings and setting the "ground rules" for the trial."

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The defendant submits that in the present application, the Court is fully entitled to delimit the range of meanings which the words are reasonably capable of bearing.

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3 4.2 In Duncan and Neill on Defamation, 3rd...

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2 cases
  • Gilchrist v Sunday Newspapers Ltd
    • Ireland
    • Court of Appeal (Ireland)
    • 21 June 2017
    ...of the 9th June 2013 for that purpose. He accepted that the decision in Travers v. Sunday Newspapers Ltd (see Hedigan J. in High Court [2012] IEHC 185 and ex tempore judgment of Hardiman J. in Supreme Court delivered on 12th October, 2015 (upholding the High Court decision)) was clear auth......
  • Grovit v Jan Jansen
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 22 September 2020
    ...of whether the Notice is capable of having a defamatory meaning, the plaintiff opens the case of Travers v. Sunday Newspapers Ltd [2012] IEHC 185 in which Hedigan J. held that meaning should be left to the jury. The plaintiff also relied on Kearns P.'s finding that the statement was 35 The ......

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