Libel reform now urgently required
The standard of a reasonable man is used to measure whether a statement is considered defamatory or not. In Ireland, the issue of defamatory effect is still left to a jury as representing a reasonable man. Such a man is presumed to be somewhere between the two extremes of unusually suspicious and unusually naive.
In a landmark judgment last week, the Court of Appeal set aside a jury verdict of defamation on the grounds that it was "perverse". The judgment, in the case of Martin McDonagh and Sunday Newspapers Limited, is as welcome as it is significant, and should form the basis of further required reform of this country's notoriously out-of-step defamation laws, not least on the issue of removing the presumption in favour of a trial by jury in such cases.
A defamatory effect is produced where a statement tends to lower a person in the eyes of society, or in the estimation of "right-thinking members of society generally" or in the eyes of the "average right-thinking man" or tends to hold that person up to ridicule, hatred or contempt, or causes the person to be shunned or avoided.