Defamation Law Developments

Published date29 March 2022
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Libel & Defamation
Law FirmWilliam Fry
AuthorMr Paul Convery and Adele Hall

The Supreme Court recently substituted a defamation damages award in an appeal from the Court of Appeal, giving important guidance around the assessment of damages in defamation cases. We explore the leading judgment of the Supreme Court in this note, together with the proposed changes to Irish defamation laws outlined in the recently published Review of the Defamation Act 2009.

(i) Higgins v The Irish Aviation Authority

The Supreme Court (Court) in Higgins v The Irish Aviation Authority [2022] IESC 13 unanimously allowed an appeal in defamation proceedings instituted by a senior commercial airline pilot against the defendant regulator, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). MacMenamin J delivered the leading judgment which provides valuable guidance on defamation law issues, including the assessment of general damages, aggravated damages, discounts for offers of amends and guidance to juries as to levels of awards.

The case is significant in that it was the first case in which a jury made an award following an offer of amends, and it was the first case in which a jury in defamation proceedings was provided with information on the level of awards in earlier cases.


The proceedings arose out of emails sent internally and externally by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), insinuating that the plaintiff had flown a microlight aircraft unauthorised, and which the plaintiff claimed were defamatory of him. The defendant admitted liability and offered to make an apology and to make amends. The proceedings were the subject of an earlier Supreme Court ruling on the offer of amends procedure set out in the Defamation Act 2009 (2009 Act). Section 23 of the 2009 Act prescribes that where an offer to make amends has been made by the defendant and accepted by the plaintiff, but the parties cannot agree on the amount of damages or costs, the High Court shall determine those amounts. The Court in 2018 found that the word "court" for the purposes of section 23 meant a jury rather than a judge, and so the plaintiff is entitled to have damages determined by a jury.

The case came before the High Court for assessment of damages only. The jury awarded the plaintiff '300,000 in respect of general damages, '130,000 in respect of aggravated damages and discounted the award by 10% in light of the offer of amends made by the defendant. The IAA appealed to the Court of Appeal (COA), which found that the High Court damages award was disproportionate, excessive, and...

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