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Ryanair loses appeal of failed defamation action against pilots


(stock photo)

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

Ryanair has lost an appeal of its failed defamation action against three pilots over an email circulated to over 2,000 colleagues.

The Court of Appeal today found the airline had not established the high-profile 2017 trial was unfair.

The airline unsuccessfully sued three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group interim council in the High Court over the emailed entitled: "Pilot update: What the markets are saying about Ryanair".

The email was circulated to 2,289 Ryanair pilots in September 2013.

Ryanair’s action against pilots Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy lasted for seven weeks.

Although a jury found the words complained of were defamatory and meant the airline was guilty of market manipulation, in a majority verdict it also decided that it was published by the defendants without malice.

As the trial judge Mr Justice Bernard Barton had previously ruled the publication occurred on an occasion of qualified privilege, Ryanair’s claim failed.

The case came against the backdrop of years of campaigning by pilots for union recognition and the airline found itself facing allegations the trial process was being used as an industrial relations tactic.

During the case, Paul O'Higgins SC, for the pilots, told the jury that the reason Ryanair took the case was to "shut the beaks of anyone who might open them". This was firmly denied by the airline, which said the case was only about the publication of the email.

In its appeal, Ryanair took issue with the refusal of Mr Justice Barton to accede to its request for the discharge the jury on the 20th day of the trial after an undiscovered document emerged during the evidence of a defence witness.

The airline also contended the ruling of the trial judge that the publication occurred on an occasion of qualified privilege was erroneous.

Qualified privilege is a protection which exists where a statement is published to someone with an interest in receiving such information, as long as it is not motivated by malice.

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In a ruling on behalf of a three-judge Court of Appeal today, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the airline had failed to establish the trial was unfair.

He said he was satisfied the trial judge correctly exercised his discretion in refusing to discharge the jury and that Ryanair failed to establish a real risk of an unfair trial.

Mr Justice Noonan also said that any ostensible prejudice accruing to Ryanair by virtue of the late production of a document was "effectively eliminated" by the trial judge allowing further cross-examination of witnesses and giving appropriate directions to the jury.

Mr Justice Noonan also found the trial judge’s ruling on the issue of qualified privilege was "correct in law".

The three pilots sued by Ryanair denied defamation and denied the meaning attributed to the words by Ryanair. They also said the words had the benefit of qualified privilege.

But the airline’s case was that by publishing that incorrect statement, the defendants were saying, by innuendo or insinuation, the airline misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing by management, was guilty of market manipulation and conspired with management to abuse the markets.

The jury answered "yes" to the question of whether the update meant Ryanair was guilty of market manipulation.

But it answered "no" to questions that it meant the airline had misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing by managers or that Ryanair conspired with managers to abuse the market for its shares.

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