The President signed the Defamation Act 2009 ("the Act") into law on 23rd July 2009, after meeting with members of the Council of State to discuss whether to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. Article 26 of the Constitution empowers the President, after consultations with the Council of State, to send any Bill to the highest court for a ruling on whether all or parts of it are "repugnant" to the Constitution. The Act had provoked controversy over its inclusion of the offence of blasphemous libel, which is subject to a fine of €25,000.
Overall the Act is good news for the media who have long been campaigning for reform of the libel laws. The Act offers defendants a number of new options for trying to resolve cases earlier including apologies and lodgments, without admission of liability, plus an emboldened offer of amends. The Act also introduces a significant new defence of 'fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest' which will allow newspapers to get it wrong sometimes providing they acted in good faith and were covering a matter of public interest for the benefit of the public.
Significantly the Act will also allow judges to guide juries in respect of the quantum of damages they should award and will allow Supreme Court judges to decide the damages a jury should have awarded. It is not all one way traffic however and the Act also introduces streamlined procedures for plaintiffs obtaining, within a matter of months, a declaration that a statement was defamatory (providing they are not also seeking damages), and a correction. The most important aspect of defamation law, however, remains unchanged; it will remain the sole function of juries to decide whether a plaintiff has been defamed in a High Court action.
A comprehensive review of the key provisions of the Act, particularly the defences and remedies available in defamation actions, can be accessed below.
Key Provisions of Defamation Act 2009 (0.13 MB, MS Word)