Defences to an action for defamation
The law attempts to fulfil the aim of protecting reputation by allowing an action to be brought against the publisher of a defamatory statement. There are, however, a number of defences, which a defendant can raise in response to an action in defamation. In this way, every citizen’s right to free expression is vindicated under Irish law. The main defences are listed below:
Justification: truth is always a complete defence to an allegation of defamation. The defence of justification will succeed if the gist of the statement is true, even though certain details may not be accurate;
Privilege: the law recognises that on some occasions an individual’s right to free expression should not be inhibited. Where a potentially defamatory statement is made on such occasion, the maker of a statement will be granted immunity from an action in defamation. There are two forms of privilege in Irish law: absolute privilege and qualified privilege.
Publish interest: the statement must be made on a matter of public interest;
Fair comment: in order to plead fair comment, the publisher must establish that the comment was made in relation to a matter of public interest, that what was said was comment and not a statement of fact, and the that the comment was fair, in other words, it was honest;
Apology: the law of defamation does not recognise defence based on apology or offer of apology.