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The Department of Justice is conducting a review of the Defamation Act 2009

DoJEDublin (element of Wikipedia photo)The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has announced a review of the operation of the Defamation Act 2009 (also here), and is now inviting contributions and submissions by 31 December 2016. This is excellent news.

According to the announcement on the Department’s website, the aim of the review is:

– to promote an exchange of views and experiences regarding the operation in practice of the changes made by the 2009 Act,

– to review recent reforms of defamation law in other relevant jurisdictions,

– to examine whether Irish defamation law, and in particular the Defamation Act 2009, remains appropriate and effective for securing its objectives: including in the light of any relevant developments since 2009,

– to explore and weigh the arguments (and evidence) for and against any proposed changes in Irish defamation law intended to better respond to its objectives, and

– to publish the outcomes of the review, with recommendations on appropriate follow-up measures.

Interestingly, the review excludes the blasphemy provisions of the Act (sections 36 and 37), because the issue will be the subject of a constitutional referendum, as provided in the Programme for a Partnership Government. Moreover, the review will take into account any relevant recommendations of the recent Report of the Law Reform Commission on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety.

The Press Council of Ireland welcomed the review and confirmed that it will be making a submission, as has NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for national newspapers. Similarly, the NUJ told the Irish Times that the “review should be seen as a welcome step for all citizens. It must be a review aimed at enhancing freedom of expression rather than simply a means of reducing defamation costs”. Shane Phelan, in the Irish Independent, also welcomed the

… long-overdue review of Defamation Act, amid continuing concern the size of libel awards in Ireland are having a chilling effect on the media’s role as a watchdog for the public.

This is not the first time that an INM title has argued that the 2009 Act has brought about only limited changes. NewsBrands regularly make a similar point. Both arguments are bolstered by reference to the €1,250,000 damages award in Leech v Independent Newspapers [2014] IESC 79 (19 December 2014). However, although libel damages are indeed still high, this focus is misconceived. That case was decided on the basis of the law as it applied before the Defamation Act 2009, which introduced a whole range of reforms to meet the concerns expressed by INM and NewsBrands. Their arguments would be stronger if they focussed on the reality of the application of the Act and not on an objectionable outcome produced by the unreformed pre-Act common law.

The review is indeed long-overdue, and much to be welcomed. But arguments against the pre-Act law by those who are advocating for further reform do their case no favours. Instead, I hope that the submissions make strong arguments in favour of coherent and effective reform of our libel laws.

6 Responses to “The Department of Justice is conducting a review of the Defamation Act 2009”

  1. […] post originally appeared on the Cearta.ie blog and is reproduced with permission and […]

  2. […] on the heels of the announcement of a review of the Defamation Act 2009 (also here) by the Department of Justice comes news of a consultation by […]

  3. Eoin says:

    From the Irish Times (3 November 2016):

    Irish libel laws a ‘sword hanging over every newspaper’

    Vincent Crowley addressed crowd at journalism awards in Dublin’s Mansion House

    The State’s current libel laws are a “sword hanging over the head of every national newspaper in this country”, the chairman of their representative body said. Vincent Crowley, chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, said there … is a “relentless demand” for information today:

    We need a legislative framework that protects the ability of publishers to create and invest in original news content, … The current libel laws are a sword hanging over the head of every national newspaper in this country. … In that context, we welcome the Tánaiste’s forthcoming review of the Defamation Act.

  4. […] Many of these terms seem synonymous; but, because of the basic rule of statutory interpretation that all of the words of a statute should be given effect if possible, even the (near-)synonyms must be given separate effect. And since each of these terms must be given separate effect, this means that there are many hurdles to be jumped. In my view, there are so many hurdles that it is almost impossible to see how they can all be jumped, and the terms of the defence fully made out. In my view, there are far too many such hurdles. In much the same way that Warby J in Economou v de Freitas relied on ECHR cases such as Hrico v Slovakia (above) to guide his interpretation of section 4, it may be that a similar reliance might ameliorate some of the complexity of section 28. But this is only a faint prospect. And, anyway, I doubt that it would be sufficient to make section 28 workable. We on the Legal Advisory Group on Defamation should have recommended a much simpler subsection (1), and I hope that this is considered in the review of the 2009 Act currently being conducted by the Department of Justice. […]

  5. […] in this regard, and to hope that this will be one of the outcomes of the review of the 2009 Act currently being conducted by the Department of Justice. Fingers […]

  6. […] in this regard, and to hope that this will be one of the outcomes of the review of the 2009 Act currently being conducted by the Department of Justice. Fingers […]

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Welcome

Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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