Kerry Leggett reports on Ireland's longest libel case, which had a hearing of seven weeks
The conclusion of Beverley Cooper-Flynn v RTE, its chief reporter and a retired farmer have similarities to recent UK libel cases. The fact that the plaintiff is a sitting member of the national parliament and the daughter of a former EU commissioner made sure the case was covered in the press daily. RTE had reported that she had persuaded the named retired farmer and other un-named investors not to use a Tax Amnesty in 1993 but to invest the money through the Isle of Man bank where she worked. The bank claimed confidentiality and its obligations to its customers superseded the defendants’ claim to be given the names of those customers. The court made an order providing discovery but with a proviso that the names and addresses or other identifying criteria would be masked. But in a judgment given by Mr Justice Kelly it was confirmed that the disclosure to the legal representatives of the defendants would confer a litigious advantage on them so he ordered that the names and addresses of the bank’s customers who had dealings with the plaintiff should be disclosed to the defendants’ legal advisers. This order enabled Collins to enquire about some 65 named customers and to interview many of them. Four of them were called to give evidence in the defamation proceedings taken by Beverley Cooper-Flynn. These witnesses admitted that the money they were investing was undeclared income but they had been caught by the Inland Revenue and had to pay substantial arrears of tax, interest and penalties.After a hearing of seven weeks, the jury found that while the defendants had failed to prove that the retired farmer had been induced not to avail of the tax amnesty, some of the other witnesses had been so induced and accordingly awarded no damages to the plaintiff.The legal costs have been estimated at more than £2m and costs were awarded against the plaintiff.Kerry Leggett is a partner at Eugene F Collins.
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