Van Morrison ‘wrongly denied’ right to jury trial in action against former Stormont health minister, court rules

North’s Covid-19 response at heart of defamation cases involving musician and Robin Swann

Van Morrison was wrongly denied the right to a jury trial in a forthcoming defamation action with former health minister Robin Swann, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has ruled.

Chief Justice Siobhan Keegan backed the musician’s challenge to having his action on the handling of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland determined by a judge alone.

But with Mr Morrison also defending a separate lawsuit brought by Mr Swann, there remains uncertainty over how the two cases, which centre on how the former minister responded to the pandemic, will ultimately be dealt with.

Mr Swann issued defamation proceedings after the musician chanted that he was “very dangerous” from the stage during a dinner at Belfast’s Europa Hotel in June 2021. The incident happened after a number of his gigs at the venue were cancelled due live music events being banned under Covid-19 restrictions.


DUP MP Ian Paisley was invited up from the audience to join the chants, with video footage of the incident subsequently going viral. The defamation claim also cites further incidents involving a media interview and online video.

In a separate action, Mr Morrison is suing Mr Swann and the Department of Health over an opinion piece he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine. The article was published in September 2020 after the performer announced plans to release anti-lockdown songs and donate proceeds to a hardship fund for musicians facing restrictions on live performance.

Mr Swann expressed disappointment at someone he acknowledged as “one of the greatest music legends of the past 50 years” making songs described as a “smear” on those involved in the public health response to the pandemic.

With neither trial expected to begin until the autumn at the earliest, attempts could now be made to agree on some form of consolidated hearing.