Court of Appeal halts Ryanair defamation action against pilot

Court says it would be easier to bring proceedings in Australia over claims on internet

In the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Gerard  Hogan said Ryanair had not identified any third party who has come forward to say they had accessed the posts or downloaded them here. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

In the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said Ryanair had not identified any third party who has come forward to say they had accessed the posts or downloaded them here. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

Ryanair cannot continue its legal action in Ireland against an Australian pilot for allegedly defamatory comments on the internet about aviation safety, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

It would be “far easier” for the airline to commence proceedings in Australia against Peter John Fleming than for him to have to travel here to defend such proceedings, the court said.

There was no evidence of publication in Ireland and the orderly administration of international justice strongly suggests the more convenient forum was where Mr Fleming lives, it added.

Rumour network

Mr Fleming, a father of two who lives in New South Wales and has no connections to Ireland, posted the comments in September 2012 on a website forum called “Professional Pilots Rumour Network” (PPRune) mainly used as a discussion vehicle by pilots in relation to aviation. He denies they were defamatory.

While PPRune can be casually accessed by members of the public, posting a comment requires registration.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, giving the three-judge appeal court’s decision dismissing Ryanair’s appeal over the High Court’s quashing of an earlier order permitting service of the defamation proceedings outside the jurisdiction, said Mr Fleming’s comments were part of a series of lengthy posts concerning aviation safety generally.

The discussion arose out of an initial post which stated four Ryanair aircraft flying to Spain on a particular evening had declared fuel emergencies after being required to divert to Valencia. That initial post suggested this highlighted the unacceptable problems with “minimum fuel” policies practised by certain airlines.

Ryanair claimed Mr Fleming’s posts were defamatory, seriously jeopardised its reputation and it was entitled to have the case dealt with in this jurisdiction where, the airline contended, the posts had been published.

Ryanair identified Mr Fleming after obtaining orders from the Californian courts, where the website forum provider is located. He removed the posts and agreed not to reproduce them. When he refused to give additional undertakings sought by the airline, it sued him.

Costs and convenience

Mr Fleming later successfully challenged an order allowing Ryanair serve proceedings on him in Australia after the High Court found, as he had no connection with Ireland, the court had to have regard to the comparative costs and convenience of the case being allowed to go ahead in Ireland and the place of the defendant’s residence.

Mr Justice Hogan said Ryanair had not identified any third party who has come forward to say they had accessed the posts or downloaded them here. Proof of publication to a third party is an essential ingredient of defamation, he said.

There was also “at most a tenuous connection” between the alleged defamation and this jurisdiction and, in those circumstances, the natural forum for the hearing of the dispute remained where Mr Fleming lives.

The High Court is hearing a separate application in relation to another case by Ryanair over alleged defamatory comments connected to alleged “low fuel” emergency landings in Spain. Ryanair is suing the Impact trade union, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (a branch of Impact) and the association’s president, Evan Cullen, arising from a radio interview Mr Cullen gave in August 2012.

Ryanair, which says there were no emergencies or dangers to passengers as suggested by Mr Cullen in the interview, claims the defendants have failed to comply with a court order requiring them hand over electronic data that may have been deleted. The defendants deny defamation or that they have failed to comply with the discovery order.