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Know Your Rights with Femi Daniyan- The ins and outs of defamation law

Last update - Monday, July 15, 2013, 16:16 By Femi Daniyan

Defamation in Ireland is often defined as a statement which tends to lower the reputation, or which creates a negative image of that person in the eyes of right-thinking people.

Defamation: what are your rights?

The right of a person to his or her good name and reputation is strongly guarded, but so too is the constitutional right to freedom of the right to express one’s self. When these two rights come into conflict, defamation litigation arises. 

This most commonly occurs when media publications print stories that have a detrimental effect on an individual’s reputation. However, not all material, however offensive it may be to the party concerned, will be considered defamatory in law.

The right to one's good name and the right to express one’s self is delicately balanced and protected by the Irish Constitution and the new Defamation Act 2009, which came into force on 1 January 2010.


Protecting your reputation

The value of your reputation cannot be overstated, because a damaged reputation can cause all kinds of difficulties that can seriously affect your working and family life. A reputation often takes many years to build, but can be destroyed in moments by careless or inaccurate communication. 

Where a person’s reputation has been damaged by the communication of false or misleading information that damages the person’s reputation to others, the law proceeds to correct that wrong. This is what's known as a defamation action.

Making a claim for defamation damages in Ireland can be a complex matter, requiring expert judgment and accuracy. In certain cases, going too far to protect your good name can be less rewarding and in itself have a negative impact.


Do you have a viable case?

In considering whether or not you have a defamation case that is actionable, you may need to reflect on the following issues:

- To take an action you must know precisely what has been said or published about you. It is not sufficient for alleged unknown remarks to have been made. You will need to know the exact statement that was made, when it was made and in the context it was made, in order to ascertain if defamation has transpired.

- The publication of any remarks about you should have been relatively wide. In other words, the more people who may have heard the statement that potentially defames you, the better your chances of success. For example, if a derogatory comment was made directly to you and possibly overheard by a couple of people, this may not be sufficient grounds for defamation.

- Any defamation action will be costly and should therefore only be considered if the person or body who has made the statement has the financial means to pay you damages and costs in the event that your action is successful. If not, you could be left with a hefty legal bill despite winning your case. In recent years, unsuccessful defamation actions have resulted in exorbitant legal costs, which are left to be settled by the defamed party.

- You cannot sue for defamation if the remarks made about you are largely true. For example, if you were publicly accused of being involved in criminal activity but do in fact have previous criminal convictions that relate to the particular statement, then you could not win your case.

- There is a one-year limitation period for defamation cases. The one-year time limit begins to count from the date of the alleged defamation. So it is important to note that time is of the essence in defamation cases.

- There are a considerable number of defences to defamation in Ireland. These include privilege, truth, honest opinion, consent, innocent publication, offer of amends and an apology. This list is not exhaustive. So if you have been defamed, it is important to consider whether any of these defences are available to your prospective defendant.


Finally, if you are affected in any way by the issues raised in this article and would like legal advice, please consult your local solicitor.



Femi Daniyan is a barrister who practices in the areas of employment, immigration, professional negligence, probate, succession and family law amongst other areas. He is an advocate on human rights issues affecting minorities. He holds an MA in International Relations from Dublin City University.

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