As the Supreme Court of Canada adopts a species of the responsible journalism defence to libel claims, the case that embodied the best opportunity that Irish law has had so far to do the same has come to an end. In Hunter v Duckworth, Ó Caoimh J in the High Court ( IEHC 81 (31 July 2003)) seemed to approve of the defence (at least in the view of Charlton J in a later case), but the Supreme Court ducked the question and returned the case to the High Court. However, the case has now been settled. According to the Irish Times:
An English barrister has apologised before the High Court to two members of the wrongly jailed Birmingham Six who had sued him for defamation over a pamphlet written by him which contained material meaning, the men alleged, they were “mass murderers”.
Sir Louis Blom–Cooper QC in an apology read by his counsel Douglas Clarke yesterday, said he “sincerely regrets certain unintended inferences” which have been drawn from the publication of the pamphlet in 1997.
He said “an unqualified apology for any suggestion of the guilt” of Hugh Callaghan and Gerry Hunter was “overdue”. “It is now made unequivocally,” the apology said.
Index on Censorship adds:
Barrister Louis Blom-Cooper has settled in a libel action brought against him by Birmingham six pair Hugh Callaghan and Gerry Hunter at the Dublin High Court. Hunter and Callaghan claimed that a 1997 pamphlet by Blom-Cooper, The Birmingham Six and Other Cases, had implied that they could be guilty of carryimg out the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, in which 21 people were killed.
Blom-Cooper has apologised for any “unintended suggestion” of guilt. Other elements of the settlement cannot be revealed.
Ireland has one of the most expensive libel jurisdictions in Europe.
So ended the first case to make a strong argument about the impact of the constitution on Irish libel law. I sincerely hope it won’t be the last.