Restaurateurs have been urged to resist taking revenge on critics through the courts after a libel claim against an Irish newspaper was thrown out on appeal last week.
Caroline Workman criticised the quality of the food and drink and staff at Goodfellas Restaurant & Pizzeria in Belfast in an Irish News review in 2000.
Owner Ciaran Convery claimed the article, which described his staff as "unhelpful", his cola as "flat", and his chicken Marsala as "so sweet as to be inedible", was a "hatchet job" and sued. A jury at Belfast High Court agreed with his lawyer's claim that the review was defamatory, damaging and hurtful.
However, last week, the Northern Ireland court of appeal overturned a decision to award damages of €25,000 against the Irish News on grounds of justification and fair comment.
Jeremy Clarke-Williams, joint head of defamation at law firm Russell Jones & Walker, said that, provided a review was based on an honest opinion, the defence of fair comment was almost always likely to succeed, even if the views expressed were extreme.
"While there has been plenty of publicity about this case, nothing has changed and restaurateurs would still be well advised to avoid taking revenge on poisonous critics through the libel courts unless they have persuasive evidence of malice," he said.
Food writer and restaurant proprietor Simon Wright said the result was a "major relief" for everyone involved in restaurant reviews. "As long as restaurant critics' reviews are factually accurate, they should be able to write what they want under the defence of fair comment," he said.
By Kerstin Kühn
E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn here.