Defamation, the Galapagos Islands Division of the law of torts

David IppDiscussing themes in the law of Tort in (2007) 81 Australian Law Journal 609, 615 (via StuDoc), Mr Justice David Ipp (pictured left), then a judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia and later a judge of the Court of Appeal of New South Wales, described the law of defamation as “the Galapagos Islands Division of the law of torts”:

The tort of defamation has evolved all on its own and has created legal forms and practices unknown anywhere else. It has evolved its own dialect and adopted esoteric customs. It thrives, for example, on distinctions between inferences upon inferences, on the one hand, and inferences upon implications on the other, and between contextual and common or garden imputations. Defamation law is devoted to jury decisions even though this devotion causes delay and additional costs and the role of the jury keeps changing. Pleadings in defamation actions are as complex, as pedantic and as technical as anything known to Dickens. Interlocutory disputes continue to beset plaintiffs and there are often massive delays in getting defamation cases to trial. Damages seem out of proportion to damages awards in other categories of cases.

The words are certainly true of Ireland now, even if they may have been “hyperbole” which gave “insufficient credit to the landmark uniform defamation laws” then recently enacted in Australia (Hemming (2009) 11 University of Notre Dame Australia Law Review 84 (pdf). The sooner the Department of Justice completes its ongoing, much delayed, review of Ireland’s defamation laws, the better. Meanwhile, requiescat in pace, Mr Justice Ipp.