The airline Ryanair has lost a High Court action for defamation against three pilots.
Ryanair had taken the action after an email was sent in September 2013 with the subject “Pilot update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair”.
Ryanair’s case was that the article was defamatory as it implied that the company was involved in market manipulation.
The case went to trial before a jury, who interestingly agreed with Ryanair’s case that the email’s contents were defamatory, but still declined to find in their favour.
This was because the pilots had successfully raised the defence of ‘Qualified Privilege’ as provided for under the Defamation Act 2009.
This is a statutory defence which protects an individual from statements made to someone who has an interest in receiving the information, as long as the making of the statements are not motivated by malice.
An example of qualified privilege would be if someone approached their employer to inform them of their suspicions that another was stealing. Though such a statement is defamatory, the person is protected if it was made in good faith.
The key question for the jury to consider in Ryanair’s case was whether the Defendants could rely on this defence, and whether the contents of the email were published in good faith.
Ryanair had argued that one of the pilots was motivated by malice, as he had been dismissed in 2013 several months before his retirement over an interview he gave to Channel 4.
However the jury disagreed with this and found that there was no malice, and the defence of qualified privilege was successful.
The Judge awarded costs against Ryanair, which would be expected to be substantial as the trial ran for seven weeks in the High Court.