Justice Minister Helen McEntee has reneged for the second time on her promise to publish a long-awaited report on reforming Ireland’s much-criticized libel regime.
According to documents from the Department of Justice, the report recommends “very significant reforms” and deals with issues such as tourism libel and SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits against public participation, where the threat of high legal fees is used. to silence the critics).
But the Independent Irish has learned that the minister will not be submitting the report to Cabinet by Christmas, although she has already indicated that she will.
Ms McEntee had also previously reneged on a pledge made by her colleague at Fine Gael and Minister of Social Protection Heather Humphreys, who was replacing her during her maternity leave, that the report would be released by November 10.
The broken promises are just the latest in a series of delays in reviewing the implementation of the 2009 defamation law.
Under the Act, the review should have been started in 2014 and completed within one year. However, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that deadlines have been repeatedly missed and revised.
Despite being described as a “priority,” officials have delayed the review to address other issues, including pandemic and Brexit legislation.
Delays have also been attributed to important judgments handed down by superior courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
Internal emails reveal that several proposed dates for presenting the report to Cabinet for publication have been suspended since October of last year.
One of those dates was April 20. According to an official, this was set aside to allow the preparation of a version “favorable to the publication” of the report, given the expected interest of the media.
A draft report was finally provided to Ms Humphreys, then acting justice minister, in early June of this year.
Within the ministry, June 29 was proposed as the date for the minister to present a note on the report to Cabinet, but Ms Humphreys blocked that.
In an email on June 10, an official said Ms Humphreys wished “more time to think.”
It is not known what specific concerns she had. A month later, the same official said the minister had yet to give instructions on “next steps”.
On August 26, James Browne, Fianna Fáil’s deputy minister for law reform, asked officials to prepare a draft cabinet note. But no memo materialized.
Ms Humphreys finally announced on October 13 that the review would be published “in three to four weeks,” but that did not happen.
The Justice Department said Ms Humphreys had been briefed twice on the progress of the review during her tenure. It said work continued to complete the journal, which is “substantial work” of almost 300 pages.
The statement said a final draft of the review was submitted to Ms McEntee on December 11 and that she intended to present it to Cabinet by the end of the year, but now felt that she “required further consideration by him and his Cabinet colleagues.” .
“The minister intends to bring the review to Cabinet in the new year,” he said.
The European Commission has warned that frequent defamation cases, high defense costs and high rewards are seen as incitement to self-censorship and a constraint on Irish media freedom. The media organizations have called for a cap on damages and an end to the use of juries in these cases, due to the unpredictability of the rewards.