In the High Court in July 2012, Mr Justice Daniel Herbert dismissed the Claim of Thomas Talbot , a retired insurance official’s action alleging Defamation and Conspiracy against the Hermitage Golf Club in Lucan, Dublin; one of its officers, Eddie Murphy; and the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Mr Talbot (76) claimed a certificate sent to him in 2003 by the handicap sub-committee, stating his handicap was 13, with the words “General Play (Handicap Building)”, meant he was cheating. Mr Justice Herbert rejected claims he had been defamed and there had been a conspiracy against him by the club.
The High Court Decision
While other golfers could conclude “handicap building” meant deliberately inflating one’s handicap, the words were only published in a limited form to a computer programmer who designed software for the club, including for handicap records. This limited publication meant the club enjoyed qualified privilege from being sued, Mr Justice Herbert said. Mr Talbot appealed the decision.
The Supreme Court Decision
Giving the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, Mr Justice Charleton said the conduct of Mr Justice Herbert in the High Court hearing was exemplary, his summary of the law was unimpeachable and his findings of fact were supported by more than ample evidence. The Supreme Court also rejected Mr Talbot’s claims of conspiracy and about the conduct of the High Court trial.
The High Court judge had found that the words “Handicap Building”, written
by the third defendant and recorded in the minute of the meeting of the handicap sub-committee of the 30th July, 2003, in their natural and ordinary meaning meant that the plaintiff was cheating at golf. This was defamatory; however this very limited communication was on an occasion of qualified privilege. Had Mr Talbot proved malice the defendants would not have been able to claim qualified privilege. There was no evidence that malice attended this communication and the dry circumstance of the computerisation of necessary records would make any such idea very unlikely.
An expensive Certificate
Mr Talbot lost his Claim in the High Court. It was estimated at that time that the Costs of Dismissal could be in excess of €500,000. Having appealed this to the Supreme Court, there would not be much change out of €1m. If the Golf Club does not recover its Costs against Mr Talbot it could also be an expensive certificate for the Club.