And finally…”That’s not legal tender!” - “Em, yes it is…”

A Dublin pub has lost an appeal against the award of €5,000 to a customer who was accused by a barman of using a fake €10 to pay for a pint when it was, in fact, not.

The Court heard that, in April 2013, Leonard Nolan went to Laurence Lounge t/a Grace’s in Rathmines for a drink.

He handed the barman at Grace’s a €10 note, which was “held aloft” by the barman who said “I can clearly see that is a fake”.

Mr Nolan said that the barman had said this in a loud manner in the presence of other customers, which made him feel nervous. Mr Nolan believed that he was being called a cheat and found the incident upsetting; he protested and informed the barman that he had got the note from a reliable source, being either the post office or the bookmakers. The barman apparently rejected these claims and loudly reiterated “I can see clearly that that is a fake” two more times in front of the other customers in the bar. According to Mr Nolan, there was a quiet area in the pub to which the barman could have brought him to discuss the matter.

The €10 note was given back to Mr Nolan, who brought it to the nearby Rathmines Garda Station where two members of the Gardaí confirmed to Mr Nolan that the note was good. When Mr Nolan returned to Grace’s, the barman said that “he did not care where had been, that the note was not going to be accepted” and asked Mr Nolan to leave. Mr Nolan requested the barman to sign the note, to prove that this was the note that had been produced, but this request was refused.

Mr Nolan claimed damages in the Circuit Court for defamation arising from the incident. On cross-examination, while Mr Nolan accepted that it is reasonable to query the validity of a note if one suspects its authenticity, he would not have held it aloft for all to see. He also accepted that it was part of the barman’s duty to consider whether a note was real or fake, but he objected to the manner in which this task was performed.

Mr Nolan alleged that his reputation was traduced on two occasions within approximately ten minutes by the words and conduct of the barman, and pleaded that the words spoken by, and the conduct of, the defendant’s barman were such as to infer in their natural and ordinary meaning that Mr Nolan was guilty of fraudulent conduct, that he was guilty of an offence under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, and that he could not be trusted.

Grace’s accepted that the legality of the €10 was called into question; however the words, the manner in which they were spoken and the actions of the barman were disputed. Pursuant to the Defamation Act 2009, the defence of truth (formerly justification) and, in the alternative, qualified privilege were relied upon.

In October 2016, Judge Linnane found for Mr Nolan, and awarded damages of €5,000. Laurence Lounge appealed to the High Court.

Upholding the finding of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice MacGrath said that he preferred Mr Nolan’s version of events over that of the defendant, and said that Mr Nolan’s case turned on the manner of the publication and its excessiveness.

Mr Justice MacGrath said that it was “inevitable that in certain circumstances, the taxing of persons with theft, implied or express, or fraud like activity, will be overheard by others, particularly when the charge is made in a public place”. Mr Justice MacGrath said that the lao makes allowances for this, and that it would always be “a matter of reasonableness and degree as to whether the line has been overstepped in determining whether the publication is excessive such as may destroy any privilege that might otherwise exist”.

Mr Justice MacGrath was satisfied with the assessment of damages in the sum of €5,000.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News