Ryanair appeals over its failed defamation action against pilots

Airline claimed defendants were suggesting that Ryanair misled investors

The appeal arises out of a December 2017 High Court jury finding that three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) had not defamed the airline in the email sent to 2,289 pilots. Photograph: AFP

The appeal arises out of a December 2017 High Court jury finding that three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) had not defamed the airline in the email sent to 2,289 pilots. Photograph: AFP

 

Ryanair has asked the Court of Appeal to overturn a jury’s decision that the airline was not defamed in an email sent 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 (RPG) had not defamed the airline in the email sent to 2,289 pilots.

It followed a seven-week trial which centred on a September 2013 email headed: “Pilot update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair.”

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 defendants – Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, all members of the Ryanair Pilots Group (RPG) – 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 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.

Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, opened the appeal before the three-judge Court of Appeal on Wednesday. The defence will make its opposing arguments on Thursday.

Mr Hayden said the backdrop of the case was a long campaign over trade union recognition in Ryanair.

Pre-trial discovery

Counsel said one of the main matters which infected the jury’s decision was the trial judge’s rejection of Ryanair’s application to discharge the jury over an email that had not been divulged as part of the pre-trial discovery of documents process.

The judge, Mr Justice Bernard Barton, had made a ruling in the absence of the jury that it would be wholly disproportionate and unjustified to dismiss the jury on the 19th day of the case as a result of the failure of former Ryanair pilot Martin Duffy, who did consultancy work for the RPG, to produce the disputed email in advance of the trial.

Any mischief remaining as a result of that failure could be dealt with through cross examination of defendants and their witnesses, Mr Justice Barton ruled.

Ryanair says the trial judge made an observation on a fact in the case which he was not entitled to do and that had “infected beyond redemption” the possibility of a fair trial, Mr Hayden said.

Malice

The Duffy email disclosed malice, he argued.

Asked by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan was it not open to counsel to deal with the issue of the undisclosed email through cross-examination of witnesses, Mr Hayden said there was no way his side was going to be able to do so once the trial judge had made his ruling.

Ryanair is also claiming the trial judge unfairly charged the jury before it made its decision.

The appeal continues.