(Image: Private Media)

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the COVID pandemic have combined to derail the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation hearing in Sydney's Federal Court which was adjourned. Justice Anthony Besanko ordered an adjournment until July 19.

The main problem has been the New South Wales lockdown. There are at least 40 people on the witness list, many of whom are due to come from Western Australia and Queensland. Even if they were granted an exemption, very few of them or their legal representatives want to complete two weeks' quarantine in order to return home.

Some key witnesses are Afghan citizens who are all in Kabul and ready to give evidence by video link. However, time is running out for their appearances; US forces are scheduled to complete their withdrawal from Iraq by September 11 and conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating. An additional complication is that the only available Pashto interpreter sufficiently qualified to assist in the case lives in Canada.