Monica Leech's record €1.87m libel award appealed
A €1.87m libel award to communications consultant Monica Leech was so disproportionately high that it should be set aside, the Supreme Court has been told.
Lawyers for Independent Newspapers, against which a High Court jury made the award in June 2009, said the "chilling effect" on freedom of the press had to be taken into account in assessing such awards.
Ms Leech's lawyers said the award should stand given the serious nature of the defamation, and also argued compensatory damages embrace a great variety of elements.
A three-judge Supreme Court yesterday began hearing the appeal, which continues today.
The case arises out of a series of 10 articles in November/December 2004 in the 'Evening Herald', which is published by Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd.
Ms Leech claimed they meant she was having an extra-marital affair with then environment minister Martin Cullen, which was strongly denied.
The jury found they did mean she had been having an affair and awarded her what was the highest ever libel award at that time.
The case was appealed by Independent Newspapers, which the Supreme Court ordered should pay €750,000 to Ms Leech pending determination of the appeal.
Opening the appeal yesterday, Cian Ferriter (with Eoin McCullough), for Independent Newspapers, said the appeal court must address where this case lay on the scale of gravity of defamations generally.
He also argued there were valid questions of public interest posed in the 'Herald' articles which merited the "alternative meanings" defence, which was run in the original trial by the paper. There was further the wider social issue of the effect on the press generally of extremely large defamation awards, counsel said.
The European Court of Justice had made clear that unpredictably large libel awards are considered capable of having a "chilling effect on press freedom" and therefore require most careful scrutiny.
The case continues.