Restaurant reviewers could be forgiven for raising a glass of champagne on expenses last night after the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland overturned a claim of £25,000 in damages from a restaurant criticised in The Irish News.
The newspaper welcomed the verdict, saying it had been vindicated on "a point of principle". Its editor, Noel Doran, was quick to present the case as a victory for press freedom. "If a newspaper has to be entitled to express its views, we have defended that principle and we will continue to," he said.
The reviewer, Caroline Workman, had questioned the quality of food and drink and service at the Goodfellas eaterie in west Belfast.
After the restaurant's owner, Ciaran Convery, claimed the article was defamatory and sued the newspaper, a jury awarded him £25,000 in damages at a trial last year. Yesterday, the verdict was quashed and a retrial ordered by the Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr.
"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.
The newspaper had argued that its review was "fair comment" and Lord Lester QC, who was representing the newspaper, said that for libel proceedings to follow a critical review would be "perfectly ludicrous".
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