Ireland’s defamation law has come under scrutiny in recent months with many commentators expressing the view that it is unfairly balanced in favour of a plaintiff.
However the Defamation Act 2009 does contain a variety of defences and provisions which can be of great assistance to a party defending an action.
These defences include that of ‘truth’, of ‘honest opinion’ and of ‘fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest’.
An important defence that all employers and retailers should be aware of is that of ‘qualified privilege’. This arises where a person has a legal, moral or social duty to make the particular statement to a person who had a likewise interest in hearing it.
An example of this would be an employee communicating to his employer that he suspects another of stealing, or a retailer who believes someone may be shoplifting.
The legislation contains several other provisions that try and readjust the balance of power between plaintiff and defendant.
It allows a defendant to ‘offer to make amends’ for a defamatory statement. This can be done before court proceedings commence by apologising to the plaintiff, correcting the statement and offering compensation.
Although apologising is not a defence to an action in defamation, evidence of an apology may be considered by the court for a reduction in damages.
The Act specifies that a corporate entity is capable of embarking upon a defamation action in the same manner as an individual.
Furthermore if a person has passed away since the publishing of the defamatory statement, the action may still proceed for the benefit of their estate.
The plaintiff must act quickly to bring a case as the Act proscribes a limited period to commence proceedings of one year from the making of the defamatory statement.