Defamation conference hears calls for abolition of juries

Defamation conference hears calls for abolition of juries

Calls for an end to the use of juries in defamation cases and a cap on damages awards were made at a conference held over the weekend, the Sunday Independent reports.

Vincent Crowley, chairman of NewsBrands, which represents 17 national newspapers, told the Bar of Ireland’s Defamation Nation conference that the use of juries in such cases had pushed legal costs up, led to unpredictable outcomes and lengthened cases.

He added that the defences under the Defamation Act 2009 were too complex to be understood by juries.

The conference, held in Malaga, Spain, also heard calls from news publishers to be given the same protection as tech giants Googleand Facebook as far as user comments are concerned.

He said: “The press needs protection and a system that will target the author, not the newspaper. News websites are currently at a legal and commercial disadvantage to companies such as Google and Facebook.

“Google and Facebook are not deemed to be publishers, yet are purveyors and influencers but seem to take little or no responsibility.”

Mr Crowley suggested that newspaper publishes in Ireland sought “a level playing field” and drew attention to the UK, where legislation introduced five years ago means publishers are not liable for comments posted to their websites.

He argued that the defamation law as it stands fails to adequately serve either plaintiff or defendant and allows for large sums to be imposed in damages that are inconsistent with other jurisdictions.

“You don’t hear about them because you don’t see them in the newspapers, but settlement amounts run in the hundreds of thousands on a regular basis for relatively minor infractions,” he said.

A review of the Defamation Act 2009, initiated by former Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, is still ongoing.

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