Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC passes away at 92

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC

Human rights lawyer Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, whose book on the Birmingham Six prompted one of the most significant defamation cases before the Irish courts, has passed away at the age of 92.

He is widely known for his role in founding Amnesty International and his work with the Howard League for Penal Reform.

He was the inaugural independent commissioner for RUC holding centres in Northern Ireland, as well as counsel for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) during the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

In his 1997 book The Birmingham Six and Other Cases, Sir Louis questioned whether the overturning of a conviction necessarily meant that a case was in fact a miscarriage of justice.

Two of the Birmingham Six, Gerry Hunter and Hugh Callaghan, subsequently sued Sir Louis and his publisher, Duckworth, for defamation in 1998 in a case that was fought all the way to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Giving his ruling in Hunter v Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd. & Anor [2003] IEHC 81, Mr Justice Aindrias Ó Caoimh adopted into Irish law the approach of the House of Lords in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Limited [2001] 2 AC 127 on qualified privilege.

However, the Supreme Court did not address this point when the case came up in 2009, leading some commentators to argue that an opportunity to answer a major constitutional question had been missed.

Section 26 of the Defamation Act 2009, which was commenced on 1 January 2010, later introduced a statutory defence of “fair and reasonable publication”, though some lawyers argue its scope has yet to be tested.

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