Thursday 24 January 2019

Ryanair union recognition nothing to do with defamation case, says judge

Ryanair is in the spotlight (PA)
Ryanair is in the spotlight (PA)

Tim Healy

Mr Justice Bernard Barton was giving directions to the jury of ten men and two women on the 24th day of a trial which had been scheduled to last just over a week when it started last month. It is now in its seventh week.

Following his charge, Mr Justice Barton sent the jury home and said they could begin their deliberations on Thursday.

They have been asked to consider whether, as Ryanair claims, a 2013 email from three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) - Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy - defamed the airline by saying it had misled the market and facilitated insider trading, among other things.

The three deny the email, entitled "pilot update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair", was defamatory or meant what the airline said it means.

Mr Justice Barton said members of the jury heard Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary say the company did not recognise trade unions. 

"We all saw Mr O'Leary in the witness box and heard what he said about unions and his attitude to unions", he said.

"Before this case is over, we have all become aware through the national media, that Ryanair has announced it is going to change and maybe that is a source of comfort to the three defendants.

"But is has absolutely nothing to do with this case and must not form any part of this case.  Your deliberations concern a pilot update published on September 12, 2013", he said.

What the defendants intended to do, and they indicated what they had intended to do by the update, is not determinant in the case.  The only people who can make that decision is the jury, he said.

The judge reminded the jury that even though the update mentioned two members of the Ryanair board, David Bonderman and Michael Horgan, as having sold shares/share options, irrespective of whether they say they were offended by the email, they are not the plaintiffs in the case. 

The plaintiff is Ryanair and the law says that defamation applies equally to a corporation.

It was also not necessary to show an individual or corporation suffered any fiscal loss because the law presumes if you defame somebody that there is damage, he said.

The judge said this was not a case where each of the three defendants were jointly and severally liable for the actions of all.  If the jury found malice on the part of one, which would defeat the defence of qualified privilege which the court found applied in this case, it did not attach to the other two.

While Ryanair said a missing email produced by an consultant to the RPG during the trial showed there was malice, the judge was satisfied the defendants did not know anything about that email.

The judge said the law was silent on whether he could give guidance on the amount of damages, should the jury get to that point, but he said that in catastrophic injury cases, involving awards of millions, the maximum amount for injury to a person is between €400,000 and €500,000.  The rest of the award in those cases was to pay for the person's care for the rest of their lives, he said.

The judge also told the jury that they should try to reach a unanimous verdict but if  it transpired they could not do so, it was not the end of the case and they should come back to the court.

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