Mr Justice Max Barrett ruled the court reports which referred to Mr Dan Philpott’s leaving Marymount after seven months as CEO and a subsequent employment related court case which was settled were not defamatory and did not injure Mr Philpott’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.
The judge rejected an application by Mr Philpott to have the published articles removed from the Irish Examiner website.
Mr Justice Max Barrett said in the opinion of the court neither of the two articles published by the Irish Examiner however viewed, and no statement contained in either of the two articles contains or constitutes a statement that tends to injure Mr Philpotts’ reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.
The judge also ruled the defence of absolute privelege was open to the Irish Examiner in respect of both articles.
Court reports, Mr Justice Barrett said, are not just of interest to the public they meet a great public interest.
“In a liberal democracy that prizes individual freedoms, all branches of government are rightly subject to the scrutiny of an ever watchful public. Reporters perform an essential role in ensuring that members of the public learn of what is being done in their courts and why,” the judge said.
He added: “It is by and through the media that a critical eye is so often brought to the work of all branches, offices and officers of government. This is so important a task that — except in so far as is necessary to ensure that the right of every citizen to her or his good name is protected and capable of vindication — the media must go relatively unconstrained in their efforts.”
Mr Justice Barrett said it was raised in submissions that a court reporter needs to be present for any let alone every aspect of court proceedings on which he or she reports.
The judge said this proposition is entirely rejected by the court and he said it is was perfectly possible, reasonable, and lawful for a court reporter to rely soley on the written court judgment as the basis for formulating a court report that later appears in print, on air and on line and for that report to be “fair and accurate”.
At the outset, Mr Justice Barrett said Mr Philpott, a married man with two young children, had maintained as a result of the Irish Examiner articles it was proving difficult for him to get employment. The judge said Mr Philpott is the former CEO of Marymount University Hospital and Hospice Ltd and during the course of his emploment, he sought to draw attention to what he perceived to be alleged shortcomings in the operation of Marymount. Subsequently there was a parting of the ways between himself and Marymount and employment related court proceedings followed. The judge said the parties eventually settled their differences and Marymount has given Mr Philpott a positive reference and publicly wished him well in his future career.
The first Irish Examiner article published in June 2015 under the headline “Former CEO loses case against hospice” referred to the Circuit Court case in which Judge James O’Donohue rejected allegations made by Mr Philpott but accepted without reservation the sincerity of Mr Philpott.
Mr Justice Barrett said the reader would have garnered the truth of the matters “as this court did on its first reading of the article”.
Mr Justice Barrett said he was somewhat mystified by Mr Philpott’s concerns regarding the second article “Ex Marymount Hospice executive’s legal case resolved”, published in December 2015.
“The whole thrust of the article is that peace has broken out between the parties that all has been resolved, that Marymount wished Mr Philpott well, that a line has been drawn under past events and that everybody is now moving on. It seems a good day’s work was done that ended with an amicable resulution of matters to the satisfaction of everyone involved.”
The judge said the article suggests Mr Philpott to be a practically minded gentleman, who is capable of finding an amicable means of resolving a difficult situation.