Man who failed in bid for damages over court report faces substantial legal costs bill

Judge says that Kilkenny People newspaper article enjoyed absolute legal privilege

A man who failed in a defamation action over a court report is facing a six-figure legal bill following a High Court order requiring him to pay the full costs of the five-day jury action.

Consultant engineer Michael Reilly (62), of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, had sued Iconic Newspapers, publishers of the Kilkenny People, over a report in its February 19th, 2016, edition referring to a man of the same name and same address who was convicted of driving with no insurance.

After five days of evidence and legal submissions, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds decided there was no case for the jury to decide because the article enjoyed absolute legal privilege as a fair and accurate report of court proceedings. She withdrew the case from the jury and discharged it.

On Friday, the judge ruled Mr Reilly should pay the full costs of the case. Legal sources estimate the newspaper side’s costs of a five-day jury action from about €200,000.


Loser pays

Seeking his costs, Rossa Fanning SC, for Iconic, said that on traditional analysis, costs follow the event, which means the loser pays. There was nothing in his side's conduct before and during the case to merit departing from the rule in any way, he said.

The article was published on a Friday and on a Monday Mr Reilly’s first solicitor’s letter arrived at the paper, he said. A clarification was offered on Tuesday and again on Wednesday and was rejected.

The judge remarked in her decision withdrawing the case from the jury that it was unfortunate Mr Reilly did not avail of that clarification offer and have the matter resolved at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Fanning said that a week after the article was published it was made clear to Mr Reilly by the paper's solicitor, as it has been done throughout, that the report was privileged.

It was done again in its formal defence to the High Court proceedings and for two years Mr Reilly's did nothing to progress them, he said. Mr Reilly, who the court heard often gave evidence as an engineering expert in court cases, was experienced in litigation – as was his partner, Monica Leech, counsel said.

Ms Leech, a former PR consultant who ultimately won €1.25 million in a defamation action in 2009 over a series of Evening Herald articles, was with Mr Reilly on holidays in France when he first learned of the newspaper article.


Frank Callanan SC, for Mr Reilly, said full costs should not be awarded to Iconic. He said there had been an issue in the case as to whether the address of Mr Reilly had been spoken in court as distinct from being on the court record. That matter did enter into the calculations of his client in going to trial as the defence was, at its best, ambiguous in relation to this.

Mr Fanning said this was a red herring and false controversy in the light of the defence of privilege and in the light of the court’s ruling last week.

Ms Justice Reynolds was satisfied there was no basis to deviate from the norm and costs must follow the event.

She granted a request from Mr Callanan for a stay on her costs order in the event of an appeal but said that would be limited to August 31st next.