Changes to Defamation Law Recommendations Set to be Accepted by Government
The Irish government looks set to approve major changes to defamation law following the recommendations of a report advocating for a reduction of pay-outs in libel cases.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will today seek approval from cabinet to draw up a new Bill based on the report, which is thought to herald significant changes in the operation of libel cases.
Abolishment of Juries
Of the changes suggested by the report, the abolishment of juries is perhaps the most notable as it is intended to reduce large awards. Should the government accept the findings of the report and proceed with legislation, the judge appointed to a specific case would decide whether a libel has taken place and what the level of damages should be. In addition to reducing awards, it is also believed that the new process would simplify and reduce the length of time taken by libel trials, leading to an overall reduction in legal costs.
An “anti-Slapp” mechanism would also be introduced as part of the proposals. This mechanism is where a defendant to a libel claim can seek the repudiation of a case on the grounds that it is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” – a case taken by a rich and powerful person or corporation to avoid investigation or criticism.
The report also contains an array of other suggested restrictions on defamation actions.
Media outlets in the State have long campaigned for a revision of Ireland’s defamation laws, which have described as being some of the strictest in Europe. Due to the huge costs involved and uncertainties around the outcome of libel cases, many media outlets in Ireland choose to settle such disputes outside of court by paying off the plaintiff even when they believe that no defamation has taken place.
*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.*