Northern Ireland: Libel Claims in 2014, a small decline in numbers – Olivia O’Kane

16 12 2014

Northern IrelandIn the period 1 January to 31 October 2014 there were a total of 20 libel claims issued in Northern Ireland.  This suggests an annual total of around 26 claims and is a small decrease from the 30 claims in 2013, and the 32 in 2012.

For the period 1 January 2013 to 31 October 2014, there were 33 cases issued against broadcast / print media defendants.  In total there were 45 libel cases received by the High Court and four Libel/Slander cases received by the County Court during this period, with 17 court disposals and 43 non court disposals in the High Court and 4 court disposals and 1 non-court disposal in the County Court.

There were only 2 cases in which the judgement was known to be in favour of the defendant during the period.  The maximum amount of damages awarded by a in a libel case for the period was £35,000.

Although the number of actions was small it was, proportionately, much greater than in England and Wales. The population of Northern Ireland is about 1.84 million.  This means that, in 2013, there was one libel claim for each 61,000 people in the province.  In England and Wales in 2013 there were 142 issued defamation claims . The population of England and Wales is about 56.6 million so this means that, in 2013, there was about one libel claim for every 399,000 people.  In other words, there were more than six times as many libel actions per head of the population in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales.

The following tables provide a useful summary of the position in Northern Ireland over the past two years:

Table 1: High Court Libel Proceedings:

2012 2013 Jan – Oct 2014 P
 Cases Received1 31 27 18
 Disposed of at Court1 6 10 7
 Found for Plaintiff 3 2 1
 Found for Defendant 2
 Damages (£)2 112,505 68,000 20,000

Source: Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS)

PData are currently provisional and may be subject to change.

1A case may not necessarily be dealt with in the same calendar year as it is received.

2Relates to the total amount of damages, known to the court, that were awarded.

 

Table 2: County Court Libel/Slander Proceedings2:

2012 2013 Jan – Oct 2014 P
 Cases Received1 1 3 2
 Disposed of at Court1 1 1 3
 Found for Plaintiff 1
 Found for Defendant
 Damages (£)3 1,000

Source: Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS)

P  Data are currently provisional and may be subject to change.

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

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

3  Relates to the total amount of damages, known to the court, that were awarded.

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

The author wishes to thank the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service Central Management Team for their assistance in compiling the figures in this post.


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