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Keep defamation juries – Law Society DG
Law Society Director General Mark Garrett

09 Jan 2024 / legislation Print

Keep defamation juries – Law Society DG

The Director General of the Law Society has reiterated the organisation’s view that juries should be retained in defamation cases.

The Government’s plans to overhaul defamation law – expected to be published in the coming weeks – are set to include a proposal to remove juries, which was contained in a draft bill published in 2023.

Mark Garrett (pictured) told RTÉ radio’s News at One last Friday that the Law Society’s biggest concern was that the removal of juries from defamation cases would distance the public from the justice system.

‘Unintended consequences’

He pointed out that defamation was the last part of the civil-law area in which juries were involved.

“It will put a significant distance between the public and the justice system, and we feel that is something that could have significant and unintended consequences,” the director general stated.

The chair of Newsbrands Ireland, which represents national and local news publishers, told the programme, however, that juries were one of the main factors preventing what he described as “a more balanced” law, citing the uncertainty of their decisions.

Chair Colm O’Reilly said that such uncertain outcomes “strike fear” into the hearts of editors.

‘Hybrid’ compromise?

Defamation-law expert Professor Neville Cox (Trinity College Dublin) also told the programme that a more “hybrid” system might be a possible compromise.

He said that it was “certainly arguable” that juries did not need to be abolished, and that aspects of the defamation trial in which a jury should be involved might be separated from other elements that should be left up to judges.

A report by the Oireachtas justice committee on the bill last year called for the removal of the proposal to abolish juries.

It added, however, that judges should be the final arbiters of the amount of any damages to be awarded.

The Law Society of Ireland made a submission on the General Scheme of the Defamation (Amendment) Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, on 4 May 2023.

It was prepared by the Law Society’s Litigation Committee, various members of which are experienced practitioners who provide expert legal advice in matters related to defamation law.

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