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Belfast judges quash libel verdict over rotten restaurant review

Out-Law News | 12 Mar 2008 | 8:54 am | 1 min. read

A newspaper which published a restaurant review describing a restaurant's atmosphere as smoky and joyless and its cola as flat has had a £25,000 libel judgment against it quashed.

Survey: How to design a better court system. Take our survey and you could win an Apple iPod TouchGoodfellas pizza restaurant in west Belfast was the subject of an Irish News review in 2000 in which the staff were described as unhelpful and the ingredients were claimed to be the cheapest on the market.

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has ruled that the jury in the original trial was misdirected, has quashed the ruling and ordered a retrial.

Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr issued the ruling, having sat with two appeal court judges in a case whose result was keenly awaited because of the implications it could have for the business of reviewing any product or service.

"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 said in his ruling. "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."

The case, he said, turned on what was fact and what was comment, and whether the facts supported the comments. "Only if the jury has a clear understanding of what is capable of constituting comment, can it address the thorny issue of whether the facts on which comment is based are capable of justifying the comment made," he said.

Goodfellas owner Ciarnan Convery has not made a comment on whether he would go ahead with a retrial or not. News agency Agence France Presse quoted him as saying "in my eyes it makes a farce of the judicial system when a jury is overturned "

Irish News editor Noel Doran welcomed the ruling. "We are delighted. It is a great victory for the Irish News. We came here to prove a point of principle and we have been vindicated," he told reporters.

The review was the subject of a libel trial last year in which the Irish News defended it as fair comment.