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Juries and Damages in Defamation Cases

The only method by which the Irish Courts can vindicate the good name of a person who has been defamed is by awarding damages (a sum of money paid in compensation for loss or injury). Neither the court, nor juries, can order a defendant to apologise, to offer a right to reply or, indeed, to admit that they were wrong. The majority of the defamation cases are heard by a jury in the High Court. The jury determines both liability and quantum.

Further, at present, they decide the level of the award with only very limited guidance from the trial judge who cannot, for example, suggest financial parameters for any award or draw comparisons with personal injury damages. In effect, the trial judge is limited to telling the jury to be fair to both sides in light of the evidence before them. There is the widespread view that Irish juries tend to favour plaintiffs. However, a number of decisions in recent years, starting perhaps with Beverly Cooper-Flynn’s failed action against RTE, challenges this view.