herald

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Court overturns previous €900k libel case ruling

Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh

The Supreme Court has found that the Court of Appeal was incorrect in overturning a €900,000 award for defamation to a man called a drug dealer by a newspaper.

Martin McDonagh, of Cranmore Drive, Sligo, was awarded the money against the Sunday World in 2008 by a High Court jury and received a €90,000 payout.

The Court of Appeal, in 2015, overturned the award, describing it as "perverse", and found Mr McDonagh was a drug dealer.

Mr McDonagh got leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court which was asked to determine whether it was open to the Appeal Court to reverse a jury verdict of defamation.

Retrial

It was also asked to decide if the media had a constitutional right to publish material and that right could not be compromised by a jury verdict to the effect that such material was defamatory.

It was further asked to decide whether the Appeal Court was entitled to reverse the jury verdict on grounds it was perverse if some other alternative explanation was open to the jury.

Yesterday, a seven-judge Supreme Court agreed with two written judgments from Mr Justice William McKechnie and Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

Chief Justice Susan Denham said as a result the court would now receive submissions on whether the matter should be sent back to the High Court for a new hearing or whether the matter of damages could be dealt with by the Supreme Court. In its verdict in 2008, the jury found Sunday Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Sunday World, had failed to prove Mr McDonagh was a drug dealer and therefore libelled him in a 1999 article.

That story arose after gardai seized £500,000 worth of cannabis and amphetamines in August, 1999, in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. It was published on September 5, 1999, during Mr McDonagh's seven-day detention for questioning in connection with that seizure.

Mr McDonagh denied any involvement in drugs and was released without charge.

In defending his defamation proceedings, the Sunday World pleaded the article was true.

In his judgment, Mr Justice McKechnie said the Court of Appeal judgment setting aside the jury verdict on the allegation of drug dealing, and imposing in lieu its own determination on the matter, cannot stand.

He said he instinctively thought the case must be remitted for retrial.

He stood over in principle the unique position of the jury and he was strongly of the view a retrial should be ordered.

However, given his colleagues' view that there should be further submissions from both sides, he would await those before determining how the appeal should finally be resolved.

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