Ulster rugby star Paddy Jackson has launched a defamation action against an Irish senator for social media comments he posted about the rugby international’s rape acquittal.
Jackson’s lawyers, KRW Law, have issued an intention to sue Labour party senator Aodhan O’Riordain.
The action relates to a tweet Mr O’Riordain posted about the trial shortly after Jackson, club and country teammate Stuart Olding and two friends were unanimously acquitted of all charges linked to the case. The tweet was subsequently deleted.
The legal action was confirmed on a day that witnessed a number of post-verdict developments.
It has also emerged that online comments posted by a juror in the rugby rape trial are being investigated by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General.
Two other people have been questioned by police in Northern Ireland in relation to naming the complainant in the case online.
Meanwhile, a number of media outlets are challenging reporting restrictions still placed on the case.
Jackson’s lawyers said he had no option other than to resort to the civil courts to “seek protective action” in response to the senator’s tweet.
We are examining carefully every item of social media commentary which seeks to challenge the integrity of the jury’s full endorsement of our client’s innocenceMarie Hans, KRW Law
Marie Hans, senior associate at KRW Law, said: “I can confirm we have issued pre-action libel correspondence against a named senator in the Republic of Ireland.
“The legal action relates to a tweet sent to a number of other persons before it was eventually taken down.”
She said the legal team “will not hesitate to repeat similar legal action” against other individuals.
“We are examining carefully every item of social media commentary which seeks to challenge the integrity of the jury’s full endorsement of our client’s innocence,” said Ms Hans.
“High court proceedings will issue shortly in both Belfast and Dublin.”
A spokesman for the Irish Labour party told the Press Association neither the party or Mr O’Riordain would be commenting on the legal action.
Earlier on Friday, a spokesman for Attorney General John Larkin confirmed that the comments posted by a juror had been referred to his office by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.
Mr Larkin is to investigate whether the comments represent a breach of contempt of court laws.
Irish internationals Jackson, 26, and Olding, 25, were acquitted of rape on Wednesday following a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.
Jackson was also found not guilty of sexual assault when the jury of eight men and three women returned unanimous verdicts after three hours and 45 minutes of deliberation.
Two other men were acquitted of lesser charges related to the same incident.
Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
Under law, jurors are not permitted to disclose details of their deliberations in any trial.
The remarks from the juror appeared hours after the unanimous not guilty verdicts were delivered below a story on the case on the website Broadsheet.ie.
The involvement of the Attorney General was first reported by the Irish Times on Friday.
Police said they were aware of the comments.
“We are aware of comments made on a social media platform,” said a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesman.
The PSNI has also quizzed two people about alleged breaches of the complainant’s right to anonymity.
“There is an ongoing police investigation and two people have been interviewed in relation to an offence under section five of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992,” said the PSNI spokesman.
“Two files have been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration.”
The high-profile trial, which ran for 42 days, generated an unprecedented level of public attention and prompted calls from Jackson’s defence solicitor for a crackdown on social media comment during criminal proceedings.
It has also renewed the debate on whether defendants in rape trials should also be entitled to anonymity, with their names only being revealed if they are convicted.
Restrictions preventing reporting on legal exchanges that take place in the absence of the jury usually fall away once the case is over, as the issue of prejudicing jurors is no longer relevant.
A number of outlets that covered the marathon trial are now seeking to get ongoing restrictions imposed by Judge Patricia Smyth lifted.
While the issue has been listed for a mention hearing before the judge on April 25, lawyers for press and broadcasters are endeavouring to have the matter dealt with next week.