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‘Scandalous and Vexatious’: Defamation law for activists and campaigners

Organisation PILS
Date 29th February 2024 10:30 AM (GMT)

Speaking out against injustice is part of a human rights campaigner’s daily life. But how can you avoid leaving yourself open to accusations of defamation?

The threat of defamation claims can exert a substantive chilling effect on activists, campaigners, and journalists. It is stressful, time-consuming, and expensive for anyone to defend themselves against accusations of defamation – even if they win. The mere threat of legal action can be used to silence valid criticism, avoid accountability, and shut down legitimate protest.

Organised by the Equality Coalition and The PILS Project, this seminar will provide human rights and equality activists with an introduction to defamation law and process in Northern Ireland. At the end of the two-hour session, you will have a better understanding of how to identify defamation, how to avoid it in your campaigning, and how to react if you find yourself threatened with a claim.


Barrister Peter Girvan and solicitor Olivia O’Kane will provide an overview of what the current law on defamation says, plus share insights into how defamation litigation works in practice.
Journalist and author Malachi O’Doherty will give a first-hand account of being sued for defamation – and winning!
The presentations will be followed by an open Q&A session.
Lunch will be served at the end of the session for in-person attendees.

To register, click here.

Our speakers:
Peter Girvan is a barrister, based at Doughty Street Chambers in London. He is a noted specialist in all areas of media law including defamation, privacy, data protection, contempt of court, and reporting restrictions. He often represents public figures, celebrities, and journalists in high-profile civil proceedings.
Olivia O’Kane is a solicitor and is currently a partner at DWF in Belfast. She is an experienced commercial litigation lawyer with over 16 years’ experience in commercial and regulatory disputes including breach of contract, misfeasance, professional negligence, banking litigation, intellectual property and media law disputes and complex commercial litigation actions.
Malachi O’Doherty is the author of several books on the Northern Ireland troubles and other works of memoir. His most recent books are Can Ireland be One? (Merrion) and How to Fix Northern Ireland (Atlantic). He writes weekly columns for the Belfast Telegraph and The Irish Post and is a frequent guest on The Nolan Show. Gerry Kelly MLA’s recent defamation case against Malachi was struck out as ‘scandalous and vexatious’.

Event Venue: UNISON (165 York St, Belfast, BT15 1GD) or online.

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