Higgins -v- Irish Aviation Authority: Court Of Appeal Slashes Damages In "offer Of Amends" Defamation Case

Published date16 July 2020
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Trials & Appeals & Compensation, Libel & Defamation
Law FirmRonan Daly Jermyn
AuthorMr Darryl Broderick and Marie Therese Collins


The Court of Appeal recently significantly reduced the award made by a jury to a plaintiff in High Court defamation proceedings where an "offer of amends" had been made. This is an important decision in particular for defendants who make an offer of amends pursuant to Section 22 of the Defamation Act. An offer of amends is a means by which defendants in defamation proceedings can minimise their financial exposure as by making such an offer the Courts, if called upon to assess damages, will generally discount the damages that would otherwise be awarded.


Mr. Higgins, who was the Respondent ("the Respondent") in these appeal proceedings, is a senior commercial airline pilot employed by Aer Lingus. In April 2013, the respondent travelled to Italy with a friend to collect two microlight aircrafts to fly them back to Ireland. The journey back to Ireland was planned to take place in stages over a number of days via the United Kingdom. However, both aircraft had to make an emergency landing near Swansea due to issues with poor visibility In compliance with legal requirements, the respondent notified local police and the Air Accident Investigation Bureau in the U.K ("the AAIB"). The AAIB notified the U.K Civil Aviation Authority ("U.K. CAA") The U.K. CAA proceeded to open an investigation into the incident and notified the respondent of this investigation on 11 July 2013.

The U.K. CAA concluded their investigation in July 2013 and informed the Respondent of their satisfaction that he had satisfied all of his requirements. Following conclusion of this investigation, the Respondent made a data access request of the appellant in these proceedings, the Irish Aviation Authority ("the IAA") and the U.K. CAA. The documentation that the Respondent received from the U.K. CAA on foot of this request included three emails ("the emails") which formed the basis of this case. It was the third of these emails that proved troublesome for the IAA and it contained the words:"... we still have a couple of issues to deal with this side of the Irish Sea so the two boys will not be getting away 'scot free'.

The IAA had not disclosed these emails pursuant to the data access request and upon further enquiry from the Respondent, the IAA informed the Respondent that these had not been retained.

Defamation Proceedings were issued in April 2014. An offer of amends was ultimately sent to the Respondent in May 2015 A dispute arose between the parties as to whether, based...

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