It is time for Ireland’s defamation laws to be brought into line with the rest of Europe, NewsBrands Ireland chairman Vincent Crowley will tell a conference organised by the Bar of Ireland today.
Mr Crowley is concerned about the “significant challenge” posed to freedom of expression by Ireland’s defamation regime and is urging the Government to complete its review of the 2009 Defamation Act, which is long overdue.
Speaking ahead of the Defamation Nation conference that takes place in Malaga, Spain, this weekend, he said good defamation policy is not about giving journalists a free rein to write what they liked.
“It is about setting the right balance in order to protect people’s reputations and the need to defend and promote freedom of expression and the media’s ability to freely report on matters in the public interest,” said Mr Crowley.
However, that necessary balance is not being achieved in Ireland under the current defamation regime.
“It is time for Ireland’s defamation laws to be brought into line with the rest of Europe,” said Mr Crowley.
The 2009 Defamation Act was supposed to be reviewed within five years of its passage and former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald announced a review in November 2016.
The Department of Justice received 35 submissions, including one from NewsBrands, but the report has yet to be published.
NewsBrands, the industry body for Ireland’s 17 national newspaper titles, both print and online, wants juries to be abolished in defamation cases and a cap placed on damages, as is the case in Britain.
Non-jury trials are the default position in defamation trials in Britain. Juries are only used when both parties and the judge agree it is in the interest of justice.
It also wants the introduction of a “serious harm test” similar to the test introduced in Britain five years ago that has reduced defamation actions by a third.
Under the test, the person claiming defamation must show that serious harm had been done to their reputation before proceeding with a case.
Despite being confident of their position, newspapers often feel forced economically to settle a claim to avoid excessive legal costs.
Mr Crowley says important stories are not being told for fear of litigation and that the law has had a “chilling effect” on democracy and a free press.
“Contrary to popular opinion, our members do not have endless finances and insurance cover,” he said.
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