Helen Burke loses disclosure application in David Norris libel case

Friday 28 February 2014 16.56
Senator David Norris is suing Helen Lucy Burke and RTÉ Commercial Enterprises
Senator David Norris is suing Helen Lucy Burke and RTÉ Commercial Enterprises

The High Court has refused to grant food critic Helen Lucy Burke disclosure of documents she claimed would show Senator David Norris had an ambivalent attitude towards underage sex.

Former Presidential candidate Mr Norris is suing Ms Burke and RTÉ Commercial Enterprises for libel over views she aired on an RTÉ Liveline programme some months before the 2011 presidential election.  

The broadcast, on 30 May 2011, related to a conversation between Mr Norris and Ms Burke over a meal in January 2002 for the purposes of an article she later wrote for Magill magazine.

Mr Norris is also suing over a subsequent Liveline programme, six days before the election, which discussed an eight-minute recording of that 2002 conversation that was also broadcast.

Mr Norris claims his reputation has been damaged by the two broadcasts and that the words used in them meant, among other things, that he held evil beliefs and was unfit to be President or to hold public office.

He said views were falsely attributed to him in the May 2011 broadcast that he never held or expressed. The quoted material was false and a deliberate distortion of what he actually said in his 2002 interview with Ms Burke, he said.

The second broadcast was a deliberate attempt to sabotage his candidacy in the election, he said.

Ms Burke said, in her defence, that her opinions of Mr Norris were based on allegations of fact specified in the programmes and they related to a matter of public interest.

She also said, among other defences, that the words were published in good faith, were honestly held and that it was reasonable and fair to publish them.

She denies Mr Norris was defamed, said he never challenged the Magill article she wrote based on that interview and that she accurately reported both him and the tenor of that 2002 conversation.

In advance of the trial of the defamation action, Ms Burke brought a High Court discovery application against Mr Norris seeking documentation she said she needs in order for her to show his claim is unsustainable.

She said it relates to representations Mr Norris made in 1997 to the Israeli courts, on Seanad Éireann notepaper, urging clemency for the senator's former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted 1992 of statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

She also wants any material he has relating to his support for poet Cathal O'Searcaigh who had been subject of a TV documentary, called "Fairytale of Kathmandu", which detailed Mr O'Searcaigh's relationship with Nepalese teenage boys.   

Mr Norris opposed her application with his lawyer claiming it was a disgraceful fishing expedition for information.

Today, High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns refused to grant the discovery sought.  

He said the material relating to the Nawi Israeli case has already been made public and he failed to see how it can be contended that discovery of it was necessary for the purpose of disposing of the libel action fairly.

He was of the same view with regard to the O'Searcaigh material. Mr Norris, according to Ms Burke's own case, did no more than call for the RTÉ programme to be investigated by a cross-party Oireachtas committee, he said.

Insofar as Ms Burke seeks copies of correspondence between Mr Norris and the media over this matter, "the same must be assumed to be in the public domain already", he said.

It was difficult to see any shortfall of information that would necessitate discovery given that it could be explored during cross examination of Mr Norris when the case comes to trial, he said.