Supreme Court to consider 'perverse' €900k libel award
The Supreme Court will today be asked to determine whether or not the Court of Appeal was correct when it overturned a "perverse" €900,000 libel award against the Sunday World newspaper.
The seven-judge court will hear submissions from lawyers for both sides in a case which raises issues of public importance, include the constitutional right to free expression and the role of juries in defamation proceedings.
Sligo man Martin McDonagh claims he was defamed by an article in the newspaper entitled 'Traveller Drug King' in 1999.
The story was published following the seizure by gardaí of IR£500,000 worth of cannabis and amphetamines in August 1999 in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo.
A High Court jury found in favour of Mr McDonagh in 2008 and awarded him €900,000 in damages.
However, the verdict was overturned by a three-judge Court of Appeal in October last year.
The Court of Appeal concluded the jury verdict with regard to drug dealing could not be allowed to stand and that the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the conclusion Mr McDonagh was indeed a drug dealer, and associated with the Tubbercurry drug seizure.
The court held the newspaper had a constitutional right to publish this information and the right could not be compromised by a jury verdict, which was, in essence, "perverse".
In overturning the award, the Court of Appeal court ordered there should be a re-trial of a second allegation of loan-sharking which the jury had also found in Mr McDonagh's favour.
Mr McDonagh subsequently sought to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, claiming the Court of Appeal's decision subverted the "sacrosanct" nature of jury findings on defamatory meanings or damage to reputation.
He also claimed the court disregarded established principles as to the status imparted to jury verdicts.
The Sunday World contends the appeal court did nothing more than apply existing case law.
Leave to appeal was granted to Mr McDonagh last February. But the Supreme Court said the decision to grant this was not, in any sense, to be interpreted as a prima facie finding the Court of Appeal had made an error.