When libel payouts make fruit baskets of us all, maybe it's time to drop juries
'If that's justice then I'm a banana," announced Ian Hislop in 1989, moments after a High Court jury in London had awarded Sonia Sutcliffe, the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, an astronomical £600,000 (€665,000)against Hislop's 'Private Eye' magazine. In recent years, huge awards of damages by juries have also become a common feature of Irish libel law, leaving many defendants looking for space in Hislop's fruit bowl.
The highest award was the €10m in damages awarded by a jury in 2010 to businessman Donal Kinsella over a press release issued by his employer that wrongly insinuated that he had made inappropriate advances to a female colleague during a naked sleepwalking incident whilst on a business trip to Africa.
Then there was the award of €1.87m made by a High Court jury in 2009 to communications consultant Monica Leech over a series of articles in the 'Evening Herald' that falsely suggested that she was having an extramarital affair with a government minister. This award was subsequently reduced on appeal by the Supreme Court to €1.25m, but has led to the newspaper group challenging Ireland's defamation laws before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that they have a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression.