New report: Juries in defamation cases in Ireland
A new report from Index on Censorship looks at whether the Irish courts should dispense with juries in defamation cases
27 Nov 23

The removal of juries in High Court defamation actions is one of many proposed reforms put forward by the Irish government in the draft scheme of the Defamation (Amendment) Bill earlier this year, but it has quickly emerged as one of the most divisive. Many experts contest the benefits of removing juries from defamation proceedings, arguing that they are too important a democratic institution to do away with.

While most civil actions have been determined by judges since 1988, defamation cases citing damages above €75,000 still come before a jury in Dublin’s High Court. The current defamation reform aims to improve the efficiency of defamation cases, which are extraordinarily time-consuming and expensive, while also addressing the outsized damages that juries award and the difficulty they have ruling on an increasingly complex area of law.

The proposed changes to the legislation would remove juries from defamation cases, allowing them to be decided by judges alone. The Department of Justice has argued that juries are unsuitable on grounds that they: (a) are unreliable in their evaluation of complex arguments, (b) award unreasonably large amounts in damages, (c) create delays in trials, and (d) increase legal costs for all parties. These arguments were heavily disputed during the oral hearings that were held by the Joint Committee on Justice in summer 2023. Some witnesses suggested that judges could equally cause delays, award high damages, and produce inconsistent decisions.

Through a legal review, statistical analysis of the High Court’s Jury List, and interviews with experienced practitioners and academics, this report examines empirical evidence on both sides of the debate in order to determine the extent to which juries should have a role in defamation cases. Dozens of judicial decisions and over 400 case records from the Jury List were analysed in preparation for this report, although the lack of information in the public records limited the scope of the research.

Those who support the removal of jury trials from defamation proceedings give three main reasons: outsized legal costs, extended delays, and excessive damages. This report, which you can view below or download here, assesses each of these arguments in turn.