In the case of Reilly v Iconic Newspaper  IEHC 490, a consultant engineer with the same name as a man who was banned from driving by an Irish court faces having to pay a costs bill running into six figures after failing in a bid to sue a newspaper over its report of the case.
The plaintiff, 62-year-old Michael Reilly, of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, Thurles, in County Tipperary, sued Iconic Newspaper Ltd over a report which appeared on the “Court briefly” section in the Kilkenny People on Friday February 19, 2016.
But the judge withdrew the case from the jury after four days of hearings, holding that no reasonably-minded jury, properly charged, could find that the article in question was anything other than a fair and accurate report of the court case – which meant it was protected by absolute privilege section 17(2) of the Defamation Act 2009.
She ordered Mr Reilly to pay the costs of the case – a figure estimated to run into six figures – but stayed the order until August 31, 2021 to give him the opportunity to appeal.
The story, headlined “Suspended for no insurance” reported that Michael Reilly, of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, who was described as a “repeat offender” had been handed a three-month suspended sentence, banned from driving for six years, and fined €750.
Mr Reilly sued, claiming that the article wrongly identified him as the Michael Reilly convicted before the court, and was false and defamatory.
He was, he said, the only Michael Reilly living at Ballycullen, Mullinahone, and the article had damaged his reputation by falsely labelling him as a criminal.
He launched the action after rejecting the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification stating that he was not the Michael Reilly to whom the article referred.
The newspaper’s defence was that Mr Reilly was not the only Michael Reilly ordinarily resident at Ballycullen, and/or that the article referred to him, and that it was in any event protected by absolute privilege under section 17(2) of the Defamation Act 2009 as a fair and accurate report of public proceedings in Kilkenny District Court.
After a four-day hearing with a jury at the High Court in Dublin, and an application from the defence, the judge, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds, withdrew the case from the jury on the grounds that no reasonably minded jury, properly charged, could find that the article in question was anything other than a fair and accurate report of the court case.
It had been argued on Mr Reilly’s behalf that his address was not given in open court during the hearing but that the reporter had taken it from the court record, and that therefore the report was not a fair and accurate report of proceedings heard publicly.
But the judge said in a decision on July 13, 2021 that a Garda Sergeant’s evidence was that, to the best of his recollection, he read out the name and address of Michael Reilly, Ballycullen, Mullinahone, Tipperary into the court record at the hearing in the District Court as this was his normal practice.
The judge said: “His evidence was not challenged in any meaningful way in that regard and, indeed, there is no contrary evidence before the court.”
“The reporting of what happened was 100% accurate and accords with the decision recorded in the court minute book and conviction orders record. In a nutshell, the report mirrors the decision of the court.
In all the circumstances, I am satisfied that there is no evidence upon which a jury, properly charged, could reasonably find that the report is not ‘fair and accurate’. I will, therefore, withdraw the case from the jury.
It is unfortunate that the plaintiff failed to avail of the offer by the newspaper to publish a clarification to the effect that he was not the Michael Reilly referred to in the article and to have this matter resolved at the earliest opportunity.”