Judge refuses to hear defamation case until defendant has representation

A judge has refused to hear a defamation case because the woman defendant couldn’t afford legal representation and he brelieved she was deprived of her human rights.

Judge Keenan Johnson urged former Bundoran town traffic warden Patricia McCafferty to seek free legal aid although it cannot be provided by the taxpayer under Irish law for a defamation case in a civil action.

Ms McCafferty was defending an accusation by Donegal County councillor Sean McEniff that she defamed him in a letter saying he was corrupt.

The letter was sent to Donegal County Council on January 5, 2009.

When the case was called at Donegal Circuit Civil Court Ms McCafferty, who represented herself, said her application for free legal aid had been rejected for the third time, despite the judge previously urging her to seek it.

Judge Johnson said it seemed unfair to him that free legal aid from the taxpayer wasn’t available in Irish law for a defamation defence and questioned whether the law was “in violation of the European Court of Human Rights”.

He said It was his duty to see that justice was done and seen to be done and that parties came into the court on a level playing field.

The judge adjourned the case once more – until the next Donegal town session - he advised Ms McCafferty to explore her options, including approaching a Free Legal Aid centre or Citizen’s Advice. He said another alternative was to approach a solicitor to do pro bono work and take on the case in the interest of justice.