A Seanad Private Members’ Bill limiting the damages public bodies can be awarded in defamation cases has been accepted in principle by the Government.
The Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2014 was moved by Independent Senator John Crown, who said it was an attempt to “de-fang one weapon which sometimes is used inappropriately by public bodies in defence of their position against valid criticism’’.
Prof Crown said transparency and accountability were two of the cornerstones of public life and governance in democratic countries. An enthusiastic but fair-minded cadre of journalists and other commentators and critics were encouraged to question Government policy on the people's behalf.
“Sometimes we do not appreciate enough what a privilege it is to live in a democracy where people still have these freedoms and where they are cherished and, in general, well respected by Government,’’ Prof Crown said.
“There are, however, subtle forms of soft power in this country which, if misused, can sometimes have the effect of silencing, quashing and disincentivising dissent.’’
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government would not oppose the Bill. He said he agreed with the points made about the "beauty and fragility of free speech and democracy''.
The Bill, he said, sought to amend the Defamation Act 2009 on the narrow issue of the bringing of defamation proceedings by corporate bodies.