Thursday 28 June 2007

Fair and reasonable publication?

A quick legal interlude: Monica Leech lost her libel action against the Irish Independent earlier today. I saw a comment somewhere on the net (can't quite seem to find it again, unfortunately) to the effect that the Indo shouldn't have been liable for merely reprinting what someone else said on the radio. I can say with confidence that you can indeed be held responsible for reproducing a statement- which is a killer if you happen to to be much richer than the person who originally said it. An aggrieved plaintiff is likely to go after you on the simple grounds that they'll be more easily able to recover a tidy sum in damages.

This is unlikely to change any time soon, but some things in the murky world of libel trials may have to. The law of defamation is long overdue for an overhaul- according to most journalists, anyway. The link (sub needed) is to a considered piece from Fintan O'Toole, but I've seen the likes of Tom Humphries, a sportswriter, have a pop as well. Law professor Eoin O'Dell says on his blog that he has "long argued that Irish defamation law is in need of modernisation". The current Defamation Act dates from 1961, and although the law has scope to develop through judicial decisions, this is a slow process and relies to a large extent on English judges.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned since the election is the fate of the Defamation Bill 2006, which would update the law, if not perhaps reform it in any radical way. Although a Government Bill, which should mean that it gets passed now that they've been re-elected, the Minister responsible for its introduction is no longer at Justice (anyone remember Michael McDowell?). Hopefully this won't mean further delay in enacting the legislation- or, worse, that the government simply decides to forget all about it, although there's no real reason why they would. I suppose, having waited 46 years, those long-suffering hacks can afford to wait just a little while longer.

Edit: Dr. O'Dell seems to share my concerns about the fate of the Bill here, albeit that this was before the election took place. I've still yet to see any comment on what will happen now that the outgoing government has (more or less) been re-elected.

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