Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Paul McDonnell - Northern Ireland is a libel-friendly, free-speech limiting outpost

Northern Ireland media lawyer Paul McDonnell (@_PaulMcDonnell_) of McKinty and Wright was cited by Lord Lexden in a House of Lords debate. Lord Lexden read out his submission in full:
"The refusal of the Northern Ireland executive to extend to Northern Ireland the remit of the Defamation Act and the legal clarity and free speech protection it brings, is quite simply unjustifiable. Why should the citizens and journalists of Northern Ireland not be afforded the same protection of those in the rest of the United Kingdom, whether they are expressing opinions online or holding government to account. Why as the rest of the United Kingdom embraces the digital revolution, should Northern Ireland be confined by our archaic and unfocused freedom of expression laws? 
The development of a dual defamation system may also have consequences extending beyond the Irish sea. Publishers and broadcasters may be forced to sanitise their once uniform national output, less they fall foul of the antiquated laws still operating in Belfast. Investigations in the public interest which concern well funded organisations will effectively be subject to censorship by the back door as regional publications will be unable to report on matters, the fear of court action in this libel friendly, free-speech limiting outpost. 
As a lawyer practicing in Northern Ireland I take pride in our legal system, failure to bring the law relating to defamation in line with England and Wales will do nothing for the judicial systems standing. Similarly, failure to introduce this law will inexorably hamper the transparency of government."
Paul McDonnell has previously written on the issue in the Belfast Telegraph here. We covered that here. Above video in full here. Fellow NI media lawyer Tony Jaffa was equally as critical here. Leading Belfast lawyer Brian Garrett said he was worried and that it was unwise to block the Defamation Act here. Olivia O’Kane was critical of unilateral and unchecked decision here.

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