Restaurant review victory, but appeal is still on menu

Editor of The Irish News Noel Doran has vowed he will fight to defend his paper if the restaurant owner who this week failed to sue the paper for libel launches a fresh legal action.

This week the paper, defended by Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, successfully overturned a

libel award of £25,000 on the grounds of fair comment in the Court of Appeal, for a highly critical restaurant review it published of the Goodfellas pizzeria.

The jury had originally delivered a unanimous verdict against the paper in 2000.

Owner of the restaurant Ciaran Convery said he believed it was a ‘farce’that a jury should be overturned and warned the fight was not over.

As The Irish News won a landmark libel case editor Doran hailed the decision as a breakthrough for press freedom.

Doran said: ‘We think the judgments yesterday vindicated our position; we went to the Court of Appeal and won at the Court of Appeal. The lord chief justice has left open the possibility that it could all be returned to the High Court for a fresh legal action. That’s up to Mr Convery and if we have to defend ourselves again then we will be doing so.

‘But before that happens the cost issue from the Court of Appeal will have to be decided. The judges will have to consider that. Our argument would be that because we won at the Court of Appeal then the other side should bear the costs. It’s going to be well into a six figure sum.”

Lord chief justice Sir Brian Kerr concluded that the jury at the lower court had been misdirected by the questions offered to them by the judge to help their deliberations. Much of the appeal hearing had centred on the interpretation of what is fair comment and what is fact.

Kerr said: ‘Only if the jury has a clear understanding of what is capable of constituting comment, can it begin to address the thorny issue of whether the facts on which the comment is based are capable of justifying the comment made.”

Doran said: ‘We might have hoped that the lord chief justice could have gone a little bit further to express some views on the right of newspapers to carry reviews. He did specifically suggest that if they had been directed in a different way they would have come up, he believes, with a different verdict so we would have won the first time round.

‘There was a very lengthy examination of the difference between fact and comment, but essentially it accepted that almost everything in a review is inevitably going to be comment and should be treated as such. We would still insist that the review covered a wide range of opinions and they were the honestly held opinions of our reviewer.”

Lord Lester concluded that if no malice or dishonesty was involved, any rating given could be justified. Had the original ruling stood in place it would have had worldwide implications for reviewers of food, drink, books, theatres and film.

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