Australia

Christian Porter’s lawyer cannot act in defamation case against the ABC, court rules

Christian Porter’s chosen lawyer has been booted off his defamation trial after a Federal Court judge did not rule in his favour.

Sue Chrysanthou SC had been working for the former attorney-general until an application to unseat her was made by the friend of a woman at the centre of rape allegations against the federal minister.

Jo Dyer said she discussed confidential information at a meeting on 20 November with the defamation specialist, but the lawyer denied anything of particular substance was said.

Jo Dyer leaves the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney on 24 May 2021.

AAP

Justice Tom Thawley said on Thursday that he was satisfied confidential information had passed between the two women.

“I have concluded there is a danger of misuse of confidential information,” Justice Thawley said.

While he agreed Mr Porter was at a disadvantage given the time and expertise Ms Chrysanthou had poured into preparing his case, he was confident he would have known about the potential litigation in March when Ms Dyer flagged her concerns.

Justice Thawley ordered Ms Chrysanthou to be restrained from acting for Mr Porter from Thursday.

The federal minister filed to sue the ABC in March after it published the existence of allegations that he’d raped a woman in 1988. The woman took her own life last year.

The report didn’t name the West Australian MP but, in court documents, Mr Porter claims information in the report narrowed it to a small number of men, and online searches for his name spiked after the report’s publication.

He later outed himself as the subject of the report, while denying the rape allegation.

Mr Porter took leave before being appointed as industry, science and technology minister.

Sue Chrysanthou arriving at Federal Court of Australia, in Sydney, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AAP Image/James Gourley) NO ARCHIVING

Sue Chrysanthou arriving at Federal Court of Australia, in Sydney, Thursday, 27 May, 2021.

AAP

The defamation proceedings have been further delayed until 1 June as lawyers for Mr Porter and the ABC enter mediation.

The ABC says the parties will be participating in mediation on Friday.

“Mediations are very common in defamation matters, and it is important that all litigant parties seek to explore potential resolution options when they can, especially so for the ABC as a model litigant,” an ABC spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Mr Porter’s solicitor would not confirm the parties were mediating but said such a course was a requirement in almost all defamation cases.

“Parties ought to engage in a mediation at the earliest possible opportunity before significant costs are incurred,” Rebekah Giles said in a statement.

“The parties to this case are no different and are complying with their obligations as litigants in the Federal Court.”

The Federal Court on Thursday published an order clarifying that the parties were not prevented from providing suppressed material to “any mediator appointed by the parties in connection with any mediation in the proceeding”.

Earlier on Thursday, the court also postponed a case management hearing set down for Thursday afternoon, and extended a deadline for the ABC to file other documents.

The documents relate to Mr Porter’s application to have parts of the ABC’s defence struck out.

Much of the matter subject of the strike-out application is also the subject of a suppression order.

The ABC has until 5pm on Friday to file an affidavit and submissions to Mr Porter’s application.

The matter is then due to proceed to a two-day hearing before Justice Jayne Jagot on 1 June.

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