The Law and You: The right to a good name and the law on defamation

The Law and You: The right to a good name and the law on defamation

Q:

I was recently out in a city centre bar socialising with friends on a busy Saturday night. I was approached by a man who I only know to see. He had an awful lot to say about me. He started shouting and became very agitated. 

I felt very embarrassed as everything he said about me was completely untrue and I was very aware of the crowd around us. He then went out outside and a friend told me he was still talking loudly about my personal and professional life, again all of which was either exaggerated or untrue. 

I am worried about what he is saying to others and concerned that he will not stop. I do not feel comfortable approaching this man myself.

A:

It’s a small world, and Cork is even smaller. A false throwaway comment can cause as much damage as a direct attack. Unfortunately, in your case it seems you have been at the receiving end of both. One’s reputation and the protection of that reputation and character is fundamental. Public outbursts are a reckless and hazardous activity which can have serious and long term consequences to those in the firing line.

The right to a good name is enshrined in the Constitution of Ireland and as such legislation is in place which acts to protect this right and prevent such attacks on one’s reputation. In Ireland, Defamation is governed by the Defamation Act 2009 (“the Act”). The Law on Defamation seeks to protect and compensate people whose  reputation is damaged as a result of the publication (by any means, including orally or in writing) of untruths about them. The Act defines a defamatory statement as one which tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.

Defamation is a strict liability offence. This means that the intention of the offender is irrelevant. There are however several defences available to any claim of Defamation and thus it can be difficult to successfully prosecute such a claim and it certainly depends on the facts of each individual case.

It is advisable that you act without delay and jot down an account of the specific details of the incident such as: the time, date and location; details of the exchange including the exact phrases and words used and the details of those around you who may have heard these untruths. It will also be very useful if you can ask your friend to jot down an account of what he/she saw and heard outside the bar. Indeed this extends to anybody else who you perceive may have witnessed the incident.

An anticipated outcome for a successful Defamation claim may be compensation for the injury or damage caused, an apology for the harm caused, and last, but not least, a deterrent for any repeated incidents in the future. Your local Solicitor will be in a position to better advise you, based on the specific facts of your case, as to the appropriate road which you should take.

*Sarah McNulty is an Apprentice Solicitor in Cantillons Solicitors of 38/39 South Mall, Cork an award winning law firm practising in all areas of litigation. Since the firm was founded in 1980, they have been involved in precedent making cases, amongst them Best V. Wellcome, Louise O’ Keeffe v. Ireland and most recently Costello V. HSE, a medical negligence claim in which they achieved damages of €17.8 million, the highest ever award in Irish personal injury litigation to date. Cantillons Solicitors received the award of Munster Law Firm of the Year (Over 5 Solicitors) at the AIB Irish Law Awards 2016.

*This weekly column is a readers’ service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

No individual correspondence will be entered into. Email your queries to legalqueries@cantillons.com

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