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The Inaugural Lecture of Prof. Neville Cox

The Inaugural Lecture of Prof. Neville Cox, Professor of Law and Morality (2021) - "Good Name, Social Belonging and the Reform of Irish Defamation Law".

Date: Tuesday 9 April 2024

Time: 6:00pm

Location: Exam Hall/Public Theatre, Trinity College Dublin

Registration for the lecture can be completed here

Defamation law exists to protect and vindicate the right to a good name but in a balance with the right to freedom of expression. In the spring of 2024, Ireland awaits the publication of a new defamation bill that will significantly reform the Defamation Act 2009 and will, it is believed, do so in a manner that for the most part favours the publisher of allegedly defamatory material. In this lecture, I seek to outline the key arguments as to the importance of good name and, in particular why this right should be so strongly protected in a fractured society.

Good name or reputation is something enjoyed in the community and is based on the judgement that a community makes about the worth of one of its members. As a result, good name is fundamental to someone’s sense of belonging within any community and unfair loss of good name through defamation can lead to deep social isolation and resultant social fracturing. A defamation verdict, from a jury and in favour of the victim by contrast is a redemptive counterweight to the community’s earlier negative judgement flowing from the defamation, which restores the previous good name of that victim, rehabilitates them into the community and promotes social cohesion. What this means is that a strong protection for a right to a good name is critical in so far as preventing social fracturing is concerned and the sight of circuses like the ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial or the spectre of Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation does not negate this principle.

This was always true but is especially so in a social media era where many people - and especially generation Z - live out their lives in contexts which are based on the publication of statements, where reputation is all important and particularly susceptible to being undermined, where there is a proven connection to loneliness and social isolation and where the risk of fractured societies is exponentially higher than it has been before.