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The Oireachtas recently published the Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2014 (“the Bill”) the purpose of which is to limit the damages certain public bodies may receive in defamation actions so as to protect public discourse from public bodies using the resources of the State and the powers granted to them by the Defamation Act 2009, to influence comments by the press and the public.

A copy of a link to the Bill is located here.

Proposed Amendments to the Defamation Act 2009 (“the Principal Act”)

The Bill as currently drafted provides for an amendment to three sections of the Principal Act namely sections 12, 13 and 31 as outlined below.

Section 12 – Defamation of a body corporate

Section 12 of the Principal Act currently provides that its provisions apply to a body corporate as they apply to a natural person and a body corporate may bring a defamation action under the Act in respect of a statement concerning it that it claims is defamatory whether or not it has incurred or is likely to incur financial loss as a result of the publication of that statement.

In essence this provision confirms that body corporates may sue and do not have to show any past or prospective financial loss in order to succeed.

The proposed Bill now currently provides that whilst a body corporate may still bring a defamation action as outlined in the Principal Act, where the body corporate is a public body as defined under subsection (3), notwithstanding any other part of the Act, the court will not consider an award for general damages in a defamation action in excess of €1.

Section 12(3) of the Bill defines a public body as referring to a number of bodies including:

  • a Department of the State,
  • an entity established by or under any enactment, statutory instrument or charter (other than the Companies Acts) or any scheme administered by a Minister of the Government,
  • a company the majority of the shares in which are held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government,
  • any entity established or appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government,
  • any voluntary or joint hospital boards and any other body which receives grants from the Department of Health

The full definition of “public body” is clearly set out in the Bill and “court” for the purposes of Section 12, means in relation to a defamation action brought in the High Court, the jury, if the High Court is sitting with a jury.

Section 13 – Appeals in Defamation Actions

Section 13(1) of the Principal Act currently provides that upon hearing an appeal from a decision of the High Court in a defamation action, the Supreme Court may substitute an amount as it considers appropriate in respect of any damages awarded by the High Court.

Section 13(1) of the Bill now provides that the Supreme Court may (where the plaintiff is not a public body as defined) substitute for any amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff by the High Court such amount as it considers appropriate or where the plaintiff is a public body substitute for any amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff of up to €1 in addition to any other order that it deems appropriate to make.

Section 31 – Damages

Section 31 of the Principal Act sets out the various principles and guidelines in respect of an award of damages including the issues the court may have regard to in making an award of general damages. The Bill amends paragraphs (j) and (k) of the Principal Act by substituting same with an additional paragraph (l) providing whether the plaintiff is a public body subject to subsection (2) of Section 12 and the limits to general damages which attach to defamation proceedings taken by such public bodies.

We will keep our readers updated of various changes to the Bill as it passes through

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