UK solicitor loses Irish libel action

AN IRISH solicitor has won libel damages of u10,000 against a member of the profession in Britain.

Justin Sadleir, of Gort, County Galway, took the action in Galway Circuit Court over a letter written by Joseph Bateman, of Bovingdon, Hertfordshire.

The court heard that Sadleir had represented a company called Manorcraft in an action in Limerick County Court. Bateman was a director of Manorcraft and acted as solicitor for its principal shareholder.

In a letter to a fellow Manorcraft director in January 1993, he wrote that Sadleir was not interested in the company case and “would delay until the next millennium”. He suggested that he be replaced.

Bateman's firm later apologised for the letter, but insisted it was not defamatory. However, a former president of the Incorporated Law Society, Michael Houlihan, testified that the letter was “grossly defamatory”.

The judge, Mr Justice John Buchanan, agreed. The letter was protected by qualified privilege, he said, but the defence could not succeed because it was malicious.

Michael Fitzgerald, who received the letter, was not a client of Bateman, said the judge, and therefore the letter could not be classed as a professional communication.

“The law protects communications between solicitor and client and this valuable protection should not be extended beyond that relationship,” said the judge.