High Court: Interlocutory injunction granted against Gemma O’Doherty for defamatory comments



Killian Flood BL
Killian Flood BL

The High Court has granted an interlocutory injunction against Ms Gemma O’Doherty for defamatory comments that she made about Beaumont Hospital and its director of nursing.

The court applied section 33 of the Defamation Act 2009 and held that Ms O’Doherty had no defence that was reasonably likely to succeed.

The defamatory comments related to three videos posted by Ms O’Doherty on her website, which included allegations of serious criminal activity by the plaintiffs. It was claimed by Ms O’Doherty that these statements were justified on the basis of truth.

However, the court disagreed, noting that Ms O’Doherty’s comments were based largely on her own perceptions rather than facts.

Background

The plaintiffs were Beaumont Hospital and Ms Marie Murray, the director of nursing. In June 2021, Ms O’Doherty posted three videos on her website. In these videos, Ms O’Doherty made very serious allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the plaintiffs regarding their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination of staff. The comments were wide-ranging and included a large number of complaints.

In summary, the comments alleged that the Hospital denied lifesaving treatment to patients without good reason; that it invented or relied upon a false claim of a pandemic to deny patients lifesaving treatment; that it was demoting and ostracising staff who refused to get the vaccine; that it was administering lethal injections of the Covid-19 vaccines; that the Hospital was in breach of employment law, the Nuremberg code, constitutional, fundamental and inalienable legal rights; that it was a dump and something out of a third world country; that it engaged in criminal behaviour; that its management, senior consultants, nurses and doctors involved in the administration of the vaccine had blood on their hands; that it employed psychopaths; that it was a drug pushing camp; and that it was a death camp.

Many of these allegations were also made against Ms Murray, including that she was a psychopath, that she had demoted and ostracised staff for refusing a vaccine and that she had committed crimes against humanity.

Accordingly, the plaintiffs issued defamation proceedings against Ms O’Doherty. The plaintiffs also issued an application for an interlocutory injunction to restrain Ms O’Doherty from making further defamatory comments prior to the trial.

The meaning of the comments in the video was not disputed. However, Ms O’Doherty contested that the comments were not defamatory and were based on truth. She asserted that several healthcare workers had complained to her of abusive demotions due to their refusal to get vaccinated. It was alleged that these workers were deeply concerned about the use of dangerous, experimental vaccines.

Further, Ms O’Doherty relied on materials which purported to show the dangers of the Covid vaccines. Amongst other things, Ms O’Doherty claimed that the death toll from Covid-19 vaccines in Europe was 14,000, but that this was underestimated by 80 percent. She asserted that millions had suffered extreme adverse reactions including anaphylactic shock, blood clots, blindness, severe convulsions and multi-organ failure from vaccines.

The plaintiffs contested each and every matter raised by Ms O’Doherty. In particular, regarding staff who wished to be unvaccinated, it was stated that HSE policy was for all vaccinations to be provided with consent of the individual. Adverse reactions were reported to the relevant authorities and that 32,000 vaccines had been provided to frontline staff without instances of blood clots.

Further, under HSE guidelines entitled “Risk Assessment for COVID-19 Vaccination, Guidelines for Healthcare Workers,” that immunisation of all staff would be promoted. Any staff who did not want a vaccine may need to be moved to lower risk work areas in a temporary capacity to avoid risks of transmission.

The plaintiffs provided evidence that no individual had been forced to take a vaccine. Instead, the Hospital provided advice and support for an individual to make a fully informed decision. The Hospital said that no staff member had been demoted to clerical positions due to being unvaccinated. Finally, evidence was also provided to show that the levels of care for emergency and elective procedures had continued throughout the pandemic.

High Court

Delivering judgment in the case, Mr Justice Senan Allen held that the applicable legal principles were not in dispute. Applying Gilroy v. O’Leary [2019] IEHC 52, the court held that it had to decide 1) if the comments were defamatory and 2) if there was any defence to the action that was reasonably likely to succeed.

Both parties also relied on Reynolds v. Malocco [1999] 2 I.R. 203, where the court held that freedom of speech should rarely be interfered with by a court. However, it was also held that bare assertions of truth did not provide a reasonable defence to an injunction application.

The court noted that Ms O’Doherty was entitled to her opinions on the dangers of vaccination and whether hospital staff should take them or not. However, she was not entitled to make the allegations that she did against the plaintiffs, such as engaging in crimes against humanity.

The court held that, while freedom of speech was an important issue, a journalist was not entitled to “wantonly or recklessly traduce reputations” and a court would intervene if those statements had no reasonable basis.

The court said that much of Ms O’Doherty’s comments were based on her perceptions or feelings rather than facts. While Ms O’Doherty had provided anonymised statements interviews with staff members which showed they did not want to take the vaccine, there was no basis to say anyone was forced or coerced to take the vaccine as alleged by Ms O’Doherty. No one claimed to be demoted or to have suffered reductions in pay.

The court held that the Hospital’s policy of following HSE guidelines was appropriate. Vaccination of staff was based on consent and promoting the vaccine was not harassment or stalking. Redeploying unvaccinated staff could not sensibly be described as demotion.

Conclusion

The court determined that the core of Ms O’Doherty’s case was that the plaintiffs knew that Covid-19 was a hoax (a “scamdemic”), that they restricted lifesaving treatment and were knowingly recommending lethal vaccines to staff. There was no prospect of this being established at trial and it was not a defence that was likely to succeed.

While Ms O’Doherty was entitled to her views, the plaintiffs were also entitled to their opinions. She was not entitled to impute her views on everyone else. Her allegations of criminality were “utterly devoid of substance”.

The court ultimately made an order restraining Ms O’Doherty from repeating comments on allegations already made, but did not go so far as to prevent her from making any other comments about the plaintiffs into the future.

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2021



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