Northern Ireland Defamation Cases, numbers decline – Olivia O’Kane

17 12 2012

High Court BelfastThe recent changes in the media landscape have no doubt had an impact for libel lawyers in Northern Ireland.  As advertising cuts continue to be made and the Leveson culture has exerted pressure on journalistic practice, the media are no doubt trying to resolve disputes in advance of legal proceedings being issued.  Legal Aid is not available to libel claimants and conditional fee agreements and after the event insurance is not available in Northern Ireland, which also has an effect on the volume of this type of legal work.

I have now obtained the figures concerning the number of libel actions received in the High Court and County Courts of Northern Ireland for each of the last five years, the number of court disposals and details of the outcome where that was disclosed to, or ordered by, the court.

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals office advised that the majority of actions for libel were settled between the parties either before they came to court or before the start of trial.  In those circumstances the terms of settlement, including any agreed damages, remain undisclosed.

County Court defamation cases were always rare, because of the low monetary jurisdiction of £3,000 and any sum claimed above this would have to be progressed through the High Court.  In 2009 the County Court issued 3 libel cases and only 1 was issued in 2012. The decline in defamation litigation is most evident in the High Court.  In 2005 it issued 55 libel cases but in the year 2012 less than half this number were issued, 26.

Between the 1 January 2011 and 31 October 2012 there were 45 libel cases received were the respondent was a broadcast or print media company.  There were 30 libel cases recorded by 30 April 2012 and 45 by 31 October 2012.

Between 23 December 2010 and 31 October 2012 there were 58 cases received and 7 court disposals and 31 non court disposals.  For the same period of the 58 cases received there was only 1 case were Judgment was in favour of the Defendant.

The largest amount of damages awarded by a Jury since 2005 in a libel case in Northern Ireland was £44,000 plus legal costs in the case of O’Rawe v William Trimble Ltd [2010] NIQB 124 (interim application) and [2010] NIQB 135 (final judgment).

 Table 1: High Court Libel Proceedings

 

 

2008

 

2009

2010

2011

01/01/12 – 30/04/12

01/01/12 – 31/10/12

Cases Received

55

46

54

31

17

26

Court Disposals 

11

22

64

17

1

5

Non-Court Disposals 

20

196

55

17

7

14

Found for Plaintiff  

ND

1

4

ND

ND

ND

Found for Respondent

1

ND

ND

ND

ND

ND

Damages

ND

£75,000

£57,001

£31,001

-

ND

Notes:    Data for 2011 & 2012 should be treated as provisional.

ND denotes NOT DISCLOSED

A case may not necessarily be dealt with in the same calendar year as it is received.

Table 2: County Court Libel/Slander proceedings

 

 

2008

 

2009

2010

2011

01/01/12 – 30/04/12

01/01/12 – 31/10/12

Cases Received 

-

3

1

1

-

1

Court Disposals 

1

-

3

1

-

1

Non-Court Disposals 

-

-

-

-

-

-

Found for Plaintiff 

-

-

1

-

-

ND

Found for Respondent 

1

-

2

1

-

ND

Damages

ND

-

£1,000

ND

-

ND

Notes:    Data for 2012 should be treated as provisional

A case may not necessarily be dealt with in the same calendar year as it is 

In the County Court there is no distinction between libel and slander cases

Olivia O’Kane is specialist media lawyer at Belfast solicitors Carson McDowell

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