Flanagan says European Court ruling on Leech defamation payout ‘will be taken into account in legal review’

Flanagan says European Court ruling on Leech defamation payout ‘will be taken into account in legal review’

Update 3.40pm: Independent News & Media has described as ‘very positive’ the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Irish defamation law.

The ECHR today found in favour of INM and ruled that Ireland had breached Article 10 of the European Convention with regard to freedom of expression.

INM Group Editor-in Chief Stephen Rae said: "The judgment is a very positive step forward in our campaign as journalists to reform the expensive and oppressive defamation law in Ireland.

“Inordinate damages awards in libel cases can have a negative effect on freedom of expression in a democracy. We call on the Government to take the European Court of Human Rights decision fully on board in its review of the Defamation Act.

“Swift action is required to uphold and support trusted and verified journalism across all publishers and broadcasters in Ireland. This is increasingly urgent in the face of the ongoing assault on media posed by fake news and hate on social media platforms."

Responding to the Court’s judgment, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said: “It is important to bear in mind that, while the European Court of Human Rights has found in essence a procedural breach by Ireland of the Convention on the facts in this case, its judgment underlines that the case refers to Irish law as it stood before our law was changed in 2009.

“The judgment expressly notes and welcomes the fact that Irish law was subsequently changed.

“The judgment is nevertheless, of course, a significant one, in light of the review of the Defamation Act 2009, and its operation in practice, which is currently under way in my Department. I and my officials are studying it carefully, and it will be taken fully into account in the review.”

Earlier:Ireland has lost a case at the European Court of Human Rights over its regime for libel and damages.

It is after a challenge by Independent Newspapers, which complained about the damages it was forced to pay to the PR consultant Monica Leech.

PR consultant Monica Leech.
PR consultant Monica Leech.

In 2004 the Evening Herald published a series of articles concerning the professional relationship between Ms Leech and the then-minister Martin Cullen.

The High Court found the articles were libellous and ordered a payout of €1.89m - which was later reduced on appeal at the Supreme Court to €1.25m.

The newspaper group successfully argued that the size of the payout, and the unpredictable amounts due, were a disproportionate breach of its freedom of expression.

The court has agreed - and criticised a system where juries were not given direct guidance about the scale of damages that should be awarded to libel victims.

However there appears to be no question of the payout being lowered - and while the newspaper group was awarded damages of €20,000, that is less than half of its legal costs for taking the appeal.


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