Carson McDowell Successfully Strikes Out Libel Action with Costs

06 September 2019

Carson McDowell was instructed by large local newspaper the Newry Reporter to defend a libel action instituted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, the local authority responsible for the area in which the paper is published.

The action arose as a result of an exclusive story published on the front page, which reported on the local council’s decision to settle employment actions taken by former council employees, and the resultant estimated financial cost to the ratepayer.

On receipt of the Plaintiff Council’s Statement of Claim, Carson McDowell immediately applied to strike the case out under the Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd And Others [1993] AC 534, a House of Lords decision which precludes local authorities from taking actions in defamation.

On consideration of the Defendant’s application, and the authorities supporting it, the High Court in Northern Ireland struck the Council’s case out in its entirety, and ordered the Council to pay all of the newspaper’s legal costs.

Separately, four individual Council officers had also issued libel proceedings against the Newry Reporter in respect of the same article. Following Carson McDowell’s success in the Council case, the individual officers sought to proceed with one of those cases as a “test” case, with the other cases stayed pending the outcome of that case. This was resisted by Carson McDowell and following a hearing before the Court, the Court determined each case had to proceed as normal.

Subsequent to that decision, each of the individual Plaintiffs discontinued their actions unilaterally and thus were required to discharge the newspaper’s legal costs for each case.

The Newry Reporter’s print coverage of the initial case can be accessed here.