Court dismisses Ryanair appeal against pilot defamation verdict

Appeal arose from 2017 finding that airline had not been defamed by pilots in an email

The Court of Appeal has dismissed Ryanair’s appeal against a jury’s decision that the airline had not been defamed in an email to pilots about its shares and the markets.

The appeal arises out of a December 2017 High Court jury finding that three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group had not defamed the airline in the email sent to 2,289 pilots in September 2013 headed: "Pilot update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair".

In a judgment published on Thursday the three-judge Court of Appeal comprising Ms Justice Marie Whelan, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan and Mr Justice Robert Haughton unanimously dismissed the airline's appeal and rejected its claim that the trial was unfair.

The appeal was brought against the jury’s verdict, which was delivered following a seven-week trial.

In its action, the airline claimed the defendants were saying that, by innuendo or insinuation, Ryanair misled investors and knowingly facilitated insider dealing by management.

It also wrongly meant the airline was guilty of market manipulation and conspired with management to abuse the markets, it claimed.

The three defendants, Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, members of the Ryanair Pilot Group, denied it was defamatory or had the meaning attributed to it by the airline.

They also argued qualified privilege, which means a statement is protected once it is not motivated by malice and is published to those with an interest in receiving it.

The jury, in a majority verdict, found the update did mean the airline was guilty of market manipulation, but found Ryanair had not proved malice. Defamation was therefore not proved.

The court heard that the backdrop of the case concerned a long campaign over trade union recognition in Ryanair.

Discharge the jury

In its appeal the airline argued that that the decision should be overturned on grounds including that on day 20 of the trial the presiding High Court judge, Mr Justice Bernard Barton, was wrong to refuse its application to discharge the jury.

It had claimed at that point of the trial that the emergence of an undiscovered document when a defence witness was giving their evidence meant it could not get a fair trial.

Ryanair also claimed in its appeal that the trial judge was also wrong when he ruled that qualified privilege applied to the publication of the email.

The appeal was opposed by the three defendants, who argued that the jury’s decision should be left undisturbed,

Giving the three-judge appeal court’s decision Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the trial judge “correctly exercised his discretion in refusing to discharge the jury” when asked to do so by the airline.

This was because the judge had dealt with the issue of the undiscovered document by allowing further cross-examination of the relevant witnesses and by giving appropriate directions to the jury.

Mr Justice Barton’s ruling in relation to the issue of qualified privilege was in the court’s view “correct in law” and the findings made by him in reaching that conclusion “cannot be disturbed by this court” the judge added.

In all the circumstances Mr Justice Noonan said that Ryanair had failed to establish that the trial was unfair and dismissed the appeal.