The High Court has granted a pre-trial injunction directing that “rate-your-solicitor.com”, a website hosting defamatory statements about members of the legal profession, be taken down prior to trial.
In Tansey v. Gill the plaintiff, a solicitor, sued the operators of “rate-your-solicitor.com”, arguing that allegations on the site that the plaintiff engaged in criminal activity were defamatory. He also sought an order directing that the website be removed. The operator of the website contested this application, arguing that the allegations on the site were true.
Judge Peart found that the defendant’s argument had “no prospect of success” and granted the injunction. While the judge noted that the courts were traditionally hesitant to grant pre-trial injunctions in defamation matters, he maintained that “life has changed… since the arrival of the internet”. He drew a distinction between “traditional” defamation cases, where the publishers were identifiable media outlets, and anonymous defamation on the internet. The judge also emphasised the fact that the defendant was bankrupt and would be unlikely to be able to pay any award of damages.
Courts are playing an increasingly prominent role in the regulation of internet content. This case echoes recent developments in the UK, where the courts have directed internet service providers to block websites involved in copyright infringement, notably the Pirate Bay. The longterm impact of the case will depend on how it is relied on in future cases. Will Tansey v Gill be limited to its unusual and extreme facts, or will it become part of a new line of authority, with the Irish courts more prepared to use their injunction powers to control websites?