If that guy beside you in the pinstripe suite at the coffee shop this morning was sobbing quietly into his latte, I hope you were kind: he may have been a lawyer.
Or at least you may think lawyers everywhere should by crying into their cornflakes this morning when you see the decision of the Taxing Master in the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel case. I certainly was, but maybe not for the reasons you think.
The Taxing Master is the man who decides what the loser’s side should pay the winner’s side after a court case. The solicitor’s fee claimed in the case has been now been reduced from €275,000 to €80,000 and the barristers have had similar reductions made to the fees they charged.
RTE’s “Mission to Prey” programme alleged that Fr Reynolds raped a girl in Kenya who fathered a child by him. It would have been awful, if it were true.
The Fr Kevin Reynolds libel case is one of the worst examples of that particular genre. Libel (or defamation) is when you say something about someone that is not true and damages their reputation. As reputation damaging statements go this one was the Daddy.
But usually the problem in defamation cases is proof. It can often be a question of subjective interpretation; what would someone hearing or reading the words have understood them to mean.
Not so in this case. Either he was the Daddy or he wasn’t. And the reason I’m shedding a tear this morning is because that is exactly what Fr Reynolds and his lawyers offered to demonstrate to RTE.
His solicitors wrote to the programme producers and said that he would take a paternity test to prove that he was not the father of the child. You couldn’t have had a more definitive answer to the question.
This very reasonable offer was not taken up. As a result RTE ended up making a reported €1 million settlement with Fr Reynolds and they have been hit with a €200,000 fine by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
They now have a legal costs bill which will now probably amount to another couple of hundred thousand euro by the time you include all the trimmings.
If the people dealing with this at the time had read the letter from the solicitors and said to themselves “You know lads, this guy might have a point. Shouldn’t we check this out first?” the legal bill would have been zero and there wouldn’t have been a settlement or a fine.
I’m not shedding a tear because of the reduction, I’m shedding a tear because as a tax payer funding this public service broadcaster I’m picking up the tab.
A tab which could have been avoided by taking a bit sound and common sense advice when it actually mattered.