A Belfast newspaper which ran a review slating a local restaurant has won its appeal against a jury verdict and the £25,000 award of damages.
In 2000 the Irish News published a review of a pizza restaurant commenting unfavourably on the smoky and ‘joyless’ atmosphere and the quality of the service and ingredients. The review awarded one star out of five.
In a keenly-awaited judgment, the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland overturned the jury’s decision and ordered a retrial on the basis that the jury had been misdirected. Restaurant critics around the UK had been perturbed by the original verdict.
The newspaper had defended the review with defences of justification and fair comment. The misdirection arose from a confusion between what constituted fact and comment, with the court largely proceedings on the basis that the material before it was of a purely factual nature. The Court of Appeal pointed out that the defence pleading had not adequately identified which factual matters went to justification and which were facts underlying the fair comment defence, points which were emphasised in the Control Risks decision. The appeal court was not certain that a properly directed jury would conclude that a sufficient factual basis existed for the comment in the review and so ordered a retrial.
The restaurant owner has not commented on whether he will continue with his legal battle.