Restaurant owner's appeal against Irish News libel decision rejected

A restaurant owner whose £25,000 compensation award for a critical newspaper review was quashed by an appeal court today failed in a bid to take his case to the House of Lords.

Three senior judges in the High Court in Northern Ireland rejected an application by Ciaran Convery, owner of the Goodfellas Restaurant in west Belfast, for leave to appeal to the Law Lords.

Convery has the right to petition the House of Lords directly.

His application for permission to appeal follows the decision by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland to quash a libel trial jury’s award of £25,000 in damages for an unfavourable review of his restaurant in the Irish News, and order a re-trial.

The newspaper appealed against the jury’s decision, saying that the review was covered by the defence of fair comment.

The Court of Appeal – Northern Ireland Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr, Lord Justice Campbell and Lord Justice Girvan – ruled that the jury at the original had been misdirected by the judge.

Today the same judges turned down Convery’s application for permission to take his case to the House of Lords.

Convery, owner of Goodfellas pizza restaurant on Kennedy Way, west Belfast, had sued the Irish News for libel over a highly critical review which the newspaper published in August 2000.

The review, by restaurant critic Caroline Workman, criticised the quality of the food, the staff and the smoky atmosphere.

In his decision in March which overturned the jury’s verdict and damages award, the Lord Chief Justice said: “I have decided that there was misdirection in the present case. I would allow the appeal and quash the order made in favour of the respondent.”

He added: “Although I consider it likely that a properly directed jury would conclude that sufficient factual substratum existed for the comment which constituted the preponderance of the article, I cannot be certain that this is so and I would therefore order a retrial.

“In any event, the question of malice has not been decided by the jury and this therefore remains an issue that requires to be determined if it is concluded that the defence of fair comment is otherwise available.”

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