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Dec 3, 2014

Bolt defamation litigant loses case, will declare bankruptcy

Victoria's Supreme Court threw out a defamation case against Andrew Bolt and landed plaintiff David Barrow with a $500,000 cost judgement. He nonetheless tells Crikey he's glad he stood his ground.

Lawyer and accountant David Barrow has lost his defamation case against News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt, and yesterday the Victorian Supreme Court ordered Barrow to pay $500,000 to News Corp to cover the media company’s costs.

The bill was discounted from the $825,000 News Corp says it spent defending the case. Nonetheless, Barrow told Crikey he would have to declare bankruptcy. Speaking shortly after the judgement, Barrow said he felt he had “won the moral battle standing up to News Corp bullies”.

Barrow sued Bolt in 2012 for a letter the columnist wrote to his boss and the Press Council, urging them to dismiss a complaint by Barrow because he was, as Bolt described him, a “vexatious litigant”. Barrow claimed this was a defamatory imputation and took Bolt to court over it. Barrow’s original complaint related to a Bolt opinion piece that relied on a report in The Australian regarding the academic and author Robert Manne. The Oz story was later corrected, but no such correction was made in Bolt’s post quoting from it.

In its defence, News Corp subsidiary the Herald and Weekly Times (which employs Bolt) did not argue against most of the defamatory imputations made in the letter about Barrow. But the publisher did argue Bolt made the comment under “qualified privilege” — that is, he made the comment in the course of undertaking his duty to respond to the Press Council about the complaint. Barrow argued that given Bolt had made the comment “with malice”, the qualified privilege defence should not apply, but Justice Terry Forrest dismissed this.

In yesterday’s judgement, Forrest said the defamatory imputations in Bolt’s letter to his boss, forwarded to the Press Council, were “trivial” and “obviously made under qualified privilege”. Referring to an email Barrow sent to Bolt claiming he would unleash an “innovative storm-wave of defamation claims” against the columnist, Forrest said the first salvo “has failed conspicuously”.

Throughout the proceedings, Barrow has been maintaining a blog with blow-by-blow accounts of his dealings with News Corp and his experiences in court. This might have hurt his case, as Forrest noted the greatest dispersion of defamatory material had been made by Barrow himself, when he published a copy of Bolt’s letter about him on the blog.

Barrow continued to keep supporters updated yesterday. Before the trial, News Corp had offered Barrow a way to avoid court, offering to settle with him provided he paid the company $160,000 to cover its costs, which would be waived for as long as Barrow agreed not to sue any of News Corp’s employees in the future. After yesterday’s verdict, Barrow wrote that yesterday’s outcome was preferable to that settlement offer:

“In rejecting the ridiculous News Corp pre-trial settlement offer I refused to carry a potential $160,000 fine over my head should there be any future disputes with persons of the News Corp universe. That was part of why I took the fight all the way to trial. I don’t have any plans for further litigation — yet I also have no intention of throwing away all of my personal rights.”

Barrow wrote that he anticipates a fresh start, “able to earn a living albeit with a number of restrictions and a blighted credit history”.

News Corp declined to comment on the case.

Update: Barrow has responded to this article on his blog.

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “Bolt defamation litigant loses case, will declare bankruptcy

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    Once again the usual suspects rile against a Court [or ANY other entity for that matter?] coming to a decision which doesn’t suit their views re what less P.C.-blinkered mortals ‘should’ accept as self-evident ‘truths’.
    Is anyone genuinely surprised by what these usual suspects assume the outside world ‘should’ be thinking?

  2. Duncan Gilbey

    @Norman.

    The plaintiff accepts the decision, the writer expresses no opinion, News Corp have declined to comment and yours was the first response.

    Who are these shadowy “usual suspects” riling against the court?

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    Duncan, I had in mind Duncan’s unwilling acceptance that he had to concede; but more importantly it was the laments of my trendy acquaintances [including young people at last Night’s Glebe Gig] who were criticising the way Bolt was getting away with ‘false’ statements regardless of whatever the conservative Court System was going to decide.
    Faux Left hubris knows few bounds?

  4. iPinque

    Jeez, Mr Bolt… what about this guy’s freedom of speech, pardon me – Freedom Of Speech?

    Doesn’t he have the right to have an opinion about your opinion of his thoughts about what you wrote in answer to what he wrote about the other thing you wrote, based on what someone else wrote but which was later removed from one place but not another?

    Huh? It’s all very confusing, and the guy might seem a bit — (adjective deleted for fear of litigation) but nevertheless, hiding behind the apron strings of your employer’s deep pockets, after all that whining about being hounded through the courts, seems just a bit… hypocritical?

  5. Scott

    So bankruptcy is better than than a promise not to sue news limited? The inability to travel overseas without permission, get a loan, become a manager/director of a company is better than a suspended fine?
    Strange option.

  6. peter lindsay

    Scott read the top line “Lawyer and accountant David Barrow”.
    He’ll just have to limp along on $500 an hour. How will he cope?

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    iPinque, you’re spot on admitting that for you it’s “very confusing”, but might not the best way to deal with your confusion would be to look at what the actual legal factors were, rather than sprouting simplistic irrelevancies such as “deep pockets”?

  8. John Taylor

    Isnt that “rail” against? Although I concede you might have to be riled.

    And Peter Lindsay- if he is an undischarged bankrupt he might have difficulty keeping his certificates to practice either.

    Try informing yourselves.

  9. Jeffrey Richardson

    @iPinque: Barrow sued Bolt for defamation, not the other way around. How does the court’s dismissal of Barrow’s complaint reduce Barrow’s freedom of speech? They didn’t say he couldn’t complain – they just said his complaint couldn’t be taken seriously.

  10. Norman Hanscombe

    True, Jeffrey, but to be fair shouldn’t we give Myriam the first chance to explain this to iPinque?