Christian Porter ABC defamation case stalls as judge considers lawyer’s alleged conflict of interest


There’s been a twist in former attorney-general Christian Porter’s defamation case against the ABC, with a friend of the alleged rape victim lodging a court action to remove Mr Porter’s barrister from the case due to an alleged conflict of interest.

Barrister Sue Crysanthou has so far represented Mr Porter, who is suing the ABC over a story about an unnamed cabinet minister accused of an historical alleged rape.

Mr Porter, who later revealed he was the subject of the accusation, has categorically denied the allegation.

His case is that he was defamed because he was identifiable from the material in the story.

Former attorney general Christian Porter is suing the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan for defamation.(

ABC News: Hugh Sando

)

An odd situation

There have already been some disruptions in the case since the ABC filed its defence.

Much of the broadcaster’s defence hasn’t been publicly released, with Mr Porter lodging an immediate application to have some of the case struck out.

Arrangements to hear that application were to be made today, but Justice Jayne Jagot — who is presiding over the defamation proceedings — started the hearing warning she may have to delay the matter, or ask Ms Crysanthou to quarantine herself from the case until the conflict-of-interest issue was resolved.

It’s an odd situation.

The challenge to Ms Crysanthou, which is a separate court action, has not been launched by the ABC, but by Joanne Dyer, a friend of the alleged rape victim referred to in the story Mr Porter is suing over. 

The court heard she was once a client of Ms Crysanthou.

Risk of ‘dreadful precedent’

Barrister Bret Walker, who represented Ms Crysanthou in this morning’s hearing, told the court Ms Dyer was effectively a stranger to the court.

He rejected the idea Ms Crysanthou should quarantine herself from the case.

Head shot of Louise Milligan.
Defemation proceedings have also been brought against ABC Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan.(

ABC News

)

“The threat is to Mr Porter’s right to his choice of counsel to appear,” Mr Walker told the court.

“It would set a most dreadful precedent.”

He also rejected the idea of a stay — a temporary halt in the case.

But Justice Jagot decided to delay the arrangements for the strike out application until after the conflict of issue claim was resolved at court in May. 

Minutes later Justice Thomas Thawley called on a case management hearing for the challenge to Ms Crysanthou. 

Lawyers in the case told the court they would need at least three days for the hearing, which is expected to involve cross examination of several witnesses.

Earlier Ms Crysanthou had asked the court to bring on the main defamation case before the end of the year.

There’s no talk about that being in doubt yet.

But even the lawyers admit things are tight, with case management of the strike out application put off until just days before the formal hearing, and Ms Crysanthou’s position possibly hanging in the balance until late May.

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Martin Bashir quits BBC as judge delivers conclusion on Diana probe: Broadcaster steps down as religion editor due to ‘health issues’ just days before enquiry report into smears and fake documents used to secure his bombshell 1995 Panorama interview



Martin Bashir has quit the BBC for health reasons as an investigation into how he obtained his famous 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana concludes.

The 58-year-old former star reporter at the corporation, who has been on sick leave for months, was rehired by the BBC in 2016 as its religious affairs correspondent.

Mr Bashir allegedly peddled a series of lies and smears designed to lure Diana into his trust, two years before the Princess of Wales died in a car crash in Paris.

But in recent months he has been seriously ill with Covid-19 related complications, and was readmitted to hospital last month for further heart surgery. 

News of his departure was announced by Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s deputy director of news, in a message to staff which told of the reporter’s ‘ongoing’ health issues.

This evening it was announced that Lord Dyson, the judge appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the explosive 1995 interview, had concluded his investigation. 

A spokeswoman for the former master of the rolls and one-time head of civil justice said: ‘Lord Dyson has concluded his investigation and the report has been passed to the BBC for publication in due course.’

A BBC spokesman said the report would be published ‘very soon’. 

Mr Munro said today: ‘Martin Bashir has stepped down from his position as the BBC’s religion editor, and is leaving the corporation.

‘He let us know of his decision last month, just before being readmitted to hospital for another surgical procedure on his heart.

‘Although he underwent major surgery toward the end of last year, he is facing some ongoing issues and has decided to focus on his health. We wish him a complete and speedy recovery.’  

Lord Dyson had been considering if the steps taken by the BBC and Mr Bashir were appropriate and to what extent those actions influenced Diana’s decision to give an interview.

TV watchdog Ofcom had said previously it will not launch its own investigation into the BBC Panorama controversy, but would follow the independent inquiry ‘closely’.

Mr Bashir began working as a journalist in 1986 but made headlines around the world in 1995 for his interview with Diana for Panorama.

Diana’s brother Earl Spencer has alleged Mr Bashir showed him fake financial documents and told untrue stories about the royal family to gain access to his sister.

The BBC is also set to broadcast a Panorama investigation – into itself – which is expected to uncover dramatic failings by former corporation chiefs. 

Former BBC director-general Lord Hall led a 1996 internal BBC investigation into the circumstances surrounding Diana’s appearance, which sent shockwaves through the royal family with her revelations about the state of her marriage.

The BBC has previously said that during an internal corporation investigation in 1996, Mr Bashir admitted commissioning mocked-up bank documents.

They had been shown to Earl Spencer, but he said they had played no part in securing the princess’s appearance on Panorama.

In March, Scotland Yard said it would not launch a criminal probe into the interview after an former employee of Earl Spencer made a formal complaint to the force.

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Tasmanian Supreme Court judge ‘counselled’ after being photographed in embrace with junior court employee


A Tasmanian Supreme Court judge has been counselled by the Chief Justice after he was photographed at a Hobart nightclub in an embrace with a junior court employee.

The photograph was taken at the Grand Poobah nightclub in Hobart on Friday, January 29 — the evening of the opening of the legal year.

The photo appears to show Justice Gregory Geason in an embrace with the female staff member.

A statement from a spokesman for Chief Justice Alan Blow said the Chief Justice had investigated the matter following concerns expressed about a judge’s conduct involving a staff member.

Concerns about the conduct were raised by members of the legal profession.

The spokesman said the Chief Justice had counselled Justice Geason in relation to the allegations concerning his behaviour, and may take further steps, depending on what he considered appropriate.

“The Chief Justice’s actions have been taken to protect the reputation of the court.”

The photograph was taken at the Grand Poobah nightclub in Hobart.(

ABC News: Luke Bowden

)

The statement said the staff member involved had not made a complaint.

It said there was no evidence of the present or past existence of an intimate relationship between the the trial judge and the staff member.

The staff member has been provided with information as to all the options, and offered support.

Court response embargoed until conclusion of trial

Arrangements are being made for Justice Geason to return to Hobart upon the completion of a criminal trial before him in Burnie.

The spokesman said the arrangements were being made ” largely because of concerns that publicity about the judge’s conduct might result in jurors not giving full concentration to cases in which he presides”.

He said there was no impact on the trial Justice Geason has been presiding over the in the north-west because the court response had been embargoed until after the conclusion of the trial.

He said this was “to avoid the risk that jurors may not pay proper attention to the proceedings if they were distracted by the thought that there may be some sort of inappropriate relationship between the trial judge and [the employee], or by thoughts about the personal morality of the trial judge.”

The statement said the court was aware that a photograph was taken at the venue of the incident, but was unaware who took it.

The spokesman said the only sanctions available were counselling in the first instance.

The only formal sanction against a judge on misconduct grounds would be suspension or removal from office by the Governor upon the address of both Houses of Parliament.

It’s an act which dates back to 1857.

Exterior of the Supreme Court building in Hobart.
Justice Gregory Geason became a Supreme Court judge three years ago.(

ABC News: Luke Bowden

)

Judges and magistrates are expected to comply with conduct guidelines which include discretion in personal relationships and being especially vigilant in observing appropriate standards of conduct, both publicly and privately.

The Law Society of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Bar Association said in a statement that they would not comment on the specifics of individual cases, to ensure natural justice to all persons if allegations were raised.

But both organisations confirmed they were aware of an alleged incident after the conclusion of a dinner to mark the opening of the legal year.

The Law Society and Tasmanian Bar Association have passed on members’ concerns to the court and are satisfied they are being heard.

Justice Geason became a Supreme Court judge three years ago.

He has worked on both sides of the bar — with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and also in litigation.

Justice Geason is a friend and worked in the same law firms as former Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman.

Mr Hodgman stated in Parliament that he excused himself from the selection process around Justice Geason’s appointment given his relationship with him.

A spokesman for Tasmanian Attorney-General Elise Archer said she would not comment on the matter.

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Derek Chauvin asks judge for new trial after being convicted of George Floyd’s murder



Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin asked a Minneapolis judge on Tuesday local time for a new trial, court records showed, two weeks after he was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.

In a series of motions filed to District Court Judge Peter Cahill, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, said his client was deprived of a fair trial, adding there was prosecutorial and jury misconduct, errors of law at trial and that the verdict was contrary to law.

On 20 April, a 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty on all three counts he faced after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts.

The rare verdict against a police officer is considered a milestone in the fraught racial history of the United States and a rebuke of law enforcement’s treatment of black Americans.

In a confrontation captured on video, Chauvin, a white veteran of the police force, pushed his knee into the neck of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in handcuffs, for more than 9 minutes on 25 May, 2020.

Chauvin and three fellow officers were attempting to arrest Mr Floyd, accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.

More to come.

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Michael Jackson’s companies had no legal duty to protect Australian Wade Robson from alleged sexual abuse, judge rules


Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark A Young granted the Jackson estate’s request to dismiss the suit, brought in 2013 by Wade Robson.

The judge said two Jackson entertainment corporations targeted by the lawsuit had no legal duty to protect Mr Robson from Jackson.

“There is no evidence supporting plaintiff’s contention that defendants exercised control over Jackson,” the judge wrote.

“The evidence further demonstrates that defendants had no legal ability to control Jackson, because Jackson had complete and total ownership of the corporate defendants.”

The dismissal came after the judge dismissed a similar lawsuit in October by James Safechuck. Both men made their allegations in the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland.

Vince Finaldi, attorney for Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck, said the ruling had “fatal flaws” and would be appealed.

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Reforming youth bail laws ‘not the answer’ to Northern Territory crime, retiring judge says


A Supreme Court Judge says Northern Territory politicians from across the political divide are wrong to “seize on” bail law reform as an answer to youth crime.

Concerns about youth crime in Alice Springs and other parts of the NT have been building in the lead up to next week’s parliamentary sittings.

The most recent NT Police data for adults and youth offenders in Alice Springs shows in the year up to 31 January domestic violence related assaults were up by about 30 per cent, compared to the previous year.

House break-ins and alcohol related assaults also rose by 25 and 16 per cent respectively, while car thefts dropped by about 22 per cent.

The Country Liberal Party opposition has promised to introduce draft laws during the upcoming parliamentary sittings that would remove a general presumption in favour of granting bail for young people for all but the most serious offences.

That presumption, along with several extra criteria judges can consider, were introduced in line with recommendations from the NT Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children.

“Hollow promises of bail reform and reviews are not going to cut it — this weak approach to repeat offending has got to stop,” Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said this week.

But Acting Justice Graham Hiley, who this month retired from his full-time judicial duties, said the current debate was “missing the point”.

“They seem to be putting that up as some kind of real answer, but the problem is far deeper than that.”

More bail accommodation needed

In the NT government’s draft Aboriginal Justice Agreement, reform of the Bail Act — including culturally appropriate bail support — is listed as one of four key measures to reduce reoffending and imprisonment rates of Aboriginal Territorians.

But Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Police Minister Nicole Manison have recently maintained that bail reform is not on the government’s immediate agenda.

Acting Justice Hiley said there was a real need for more supported bail accommodation or “safe houses” for young people on remand, so they could avoid mixing with convicted offenders.

But in his view, the debate about presumptions for or against bail is irrelevant.

“I think what they tend to forget is, at the end of the day, the judges really make a decision about whether or not a person should have bail,” Acting Justice Hiley said.

“So even though you might start off with this so-called presumption, the underlying principles for bail are still the same.”

These principles include whether a person is a flight risk, whether they are likely to reoffend and the potential danger to the community and victims.

“Those things are already in the Bail Act, so irrespective of presumptions, you take those other factors into account,” Acting Justice Hiley said.

“If a person is under 18, you’ve got to think more in favour of granting bail — but you do anyway.

“You’ve got a kid, and you recognise kids make mistakes — we’ve all made mistakes and they’re still maturing, so you give them the benefit of all that anyway.”

‘We need more judges’

Acting Justice Hiley said his “major concern” was the continuing high levels of incarceration among the NT’s Aboriginal population.

An increasing prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in courtroom submissions also presented difficulties for judges, he said, especially given there is no known cure.

“They’re really hard [cases] — especially with kids, you’ve really got to try and rehabilitate them as much as you can,” he said.

“The other side of that coin is there might be a general risk to the community.”

The Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin.
In the Northern Territory, judges are made to retire at age 72.(

ABC News: Tristan Hooft

)

Acting Justice Hiley also made a plea for more judges, saying lengthy wait times for trials — sometimes longer than potential sentences — were putting more pressure on judges to release people on bail.

The judge used an example of a man charged with assault who was likely to get about three months in prison if convicted, but faced at least double that period if he was placed on remand to await his trial.

“You’re faced with that choice between releasing on bail today on strict conditions or let them sit in prison for two years, bearing in mind they might be not guilty,” he said.

The NT Supreme Court has six permanent judges, which Acting Justice Hiley said was the same number it had in the 1980s, despite criminal listings more than tripling over the past three decades.

The time it takes for a criminal matter to proceed through the Supreme Court has also more than doubled over the past six years, the judge said, from about 125 days to about 300 days.

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Judge delays sentence of North East father facing rape charge | The Border Mail



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A North East man who allegedly violently raped his partner after she threatened to leave him will have to wait another month to learn his fate. The man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim, yesterday had his sentencing hearing in the County Court adjourned until April 16. The man is charged with one count of rape and one count of detention for a sexual purpose with Judge Scott Johns needing more time to deliver his sentence. He had been due to be sentenced on Thursday afternoon. The court heard at the plea hearing last month, the man has been in custody for more than 600 days over the 2019 offences which allegedly took place while three children were asleep in the home. IN OTHER NEWS: The prosecution alleges the victim’s nine-year-old daughter walked in to the living room after hearing her mother scream. The court heard the girl had been holding her pillow over her head trying not to hear the alleged assault.

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Judge grants Labor MP Marlene Kairouz a delay before branch stacking hearing


She launched legal action against Labor last month and claimed she was unfairly pursued by the party when it referred her to the internal disputes tribunal.

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Timothy Ginnane ruled in her favour and granted an injunction, which prevents Labor from hearing her charges until the court considers the matter and examines more evidence in detail.

Ms Kairouz’s lawyers challenged the validity of Labor’s charges, and argued the ALP’s national executive didn’t have the power to intervene in a state issue.

She listed 26 Labor figures as defendants, including former premier Steve Bracks and former federal MP Jenny Macklin – who were appointed as administrators of Victorian Labor by the national executive – and federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

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Judge to decide whether Edward Rowen murdered wife with elephant statue on Christmas Day in 2019


A Victorian Supreme Court judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to prove elderly Creswick man, Edward Rowen, murdered his wife of more than five decades on Christmas Day in 2019.

WARNING: This story contains details of alleged crimes that readers may find distressing.

Seven witnesses gave evidence during special hearings in front of Justice Lesley Taylor, which were held instead of a regular trial because Mr Rowen was deemed unfit to stand.

The 84-year-old has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease — most likely Alzheimer’s — and a clinical psychologist who assessed him said he was not well enough to hold a conversation, follow court procedures or instruct his lawyers.

His 78-year-old wife, Rosalie Rowen, died in hospital hours after suffering severe head injuries caused by blunt force trauma inflicted in her lounge room on the night of December 25, 2019.

During the aftermath of the incident, Mr Rowen told neighbours, a passer-by who stopped to help and police that he had killed his wife by hitting her over the head with a wooden elephant statue.

The Rowens had been married for more than 50 years and had four adult children.

They lived in the house in Creswick, near Ballarat, independently.

Jelly shot dispute

Their eldest child, Catherine Boyd, appeared in court to explain the events of that Christmas Day leading up to her mother’s death.

During the afternoon, family members, including Edward and Rosalie, had gathered at a shed on a property at Mitchell Park, on Ballarat’s fringes, where one of their daughters was having a new house built.

Their granddaughter had made jelly shots containing vodka, which Ms Boyd said her father believed were desserts.

In an attempt to stop him from consuming one of the alcoholic jellies, his wife crushed a jelly shot in his hand and one of his daughters tried to prevent him accessing more.

“He wasn’t very happy about the whole idea,” Ms Boyd said.

Ms Boyd said a family member then told Mr Rowen to “stop being silly” and he sat down.

Mr Rowen and his wife said goodbye to their family and were dropped home by their grandson at about 8:00pm.

Witnesses rush to scene

Less than two hours later, Rebecca Pascoe was in a neighbouring house with her partner and his family when they became aware of Mr Rowen shouting for help on the road outside.

Ms Pascoe said Mr Rowen hugged her and told her he thought he had killed his wife.

Her partner called emergency services while Ms Pascoe went inside the house with another man and tried to assist Mrs Rowen, who was in the loungeroom, severely injured.

Ms Pascoe said Mr Rowen came back inside the house and asked if Mrs Rowen was going to be OK.

She said the injured woman squeezed her hand lightly but was otherwise unresponsive.

Meanwhile a young man, Miles Tait, who had been driving past the scene with his wife, stopped and made a separate call to emergency services.

Police cars and ambulances parked along a road at night time.
Bystanders and neighbours who came to help called emergency services to the Creswick house on Christmas Day in 2019.(

ABC News

)

‘Flew into a rage’

After the sole police officer working in the town that night, Senior Constable Jason Allison, had arrived and arrested Mr Rowen, he asked Mr Tait and another young man to ensure the elderly man stayed put while he went inside to check on Mrs Rowen.

During that time, the court heard, Mr Rowen told the men to leave him outside because he had killed his wife after he “flew into a rage” and explained that he had been drinking.

“He rambled on a bit more about how when he was drinking a bit earlier he got cut off and he was furious at the ladies there, and how when he got home he was still mad and wanted to drink,” Mr Tait told the court.

The court heard Mr Rowen made admissions about his involvement in attacking his wife to police at the scene, but after he was taken into custody a medical officer deemed him unfit to be interviewed.

His blood-stained clothing was seized and photographed and the elephant statue was located on the kitchen bench inside the house.

Following the special hearing, Mr Rowen was remanded in custody, with his fate to be decided by the judge after she hands down her decision on whether there’s enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he murdered his wife.

No history of offending

During the closing statements, prosecutor David Glynn told the court there was “abundant evidence” that it was Mr Rowen who inflicted the fatal injuries on Mrs Rowen.

“There was some evidence he was irrationally angry, including with Mrs Rowen … earlier that evening,” Mr Glynn said.

He also made reference to the admissions Mr Rowen made on the night, some of which were captured on police body-cameras and played in court.

Defence barrister Tim Marsh noted the difficulties of the case given the accused man was unfit to engage in the proceedings and said the nature of the alleged crime remained “inexplicable”.

He said the argument over jelly shots would be a “bizarre and outlandish motivation for a crime, given they were married for 60 years”.

“There is no prior history of criminal offending, or family violence,” Mr Marsh said.

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Judge reinstates third-degree murder charge over death of George Floyd


The ruling came ahead of resumption of jury selection on Thursday. Five jurors have been seated after just two days of screening by attorneys and the judge, who has set aside at least three weeks to fill the panel.

Attorneys have given considerable attention to the jury pool’s attitudes toward police in the first two days of questioning, trying to determine whether they’re more inclined to believe testimony from law enforcement over evidence from other witnesses to the fatal confrontation.

The first juror picked on Wednesday, a man who works in sales management and grew up in a mostly white part of central Minnesota, acknowledged saying on his written questionnaire that he had a “very favourable” opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and a “somewhat unfavourable” impression of the Blue Lives Matter countermovement in favour of police, yet “somewhat agreed” that police don’t get the respect they deserve. He said he agrees that there are bad police officers.

“Are there good ones? Yes. So I don’t think it’s right to completely blame the entire organisation,” he told the court under questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher.

He also said he would be more inclined to believe an officer over the word of another witness. But he said he could set aside any ideas about the inherent honesty of an officer and evaluate each witness on their own.

The second, a man who works in information technology security, marked “strongly agree” on a question about whether he believes police in his community make him feel safe. His community wasn’t specified – jurors are being drawn from all over Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and many of its suburbs.

“In my community, I think when there is suspicious activity the police will stop by, they will ask a question,” he said. “I think that sense of community is all we want right? We want to live in a community where we feel safe regardless of race, colour and gender.”

Schleicher noted that the man also stated in his questionnaire that he strongly disagreed with the concept of “defunding” the police, which has become a political flashpoint locally and across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“While I necessarily might not agree with the police action in some situation, I believe that in order for police to make my community safe they have to have the money,” he replied.

The questionnaire explores potential jurors’ familiarity with the case and their own contacts with police. Their answers have not been made public, and the jurors’ identities are being kept secret. Their racial backgrounds often aren’t disclosed in open court.

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Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defence hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defence.

Schleicher used a peremptory challenge on Wednesday to remove from the panel a woman who has a nephew who is a sheriff’s deputy in western Minnesota. She said she was dismayed by the violence that followed Floyd’s death.

“I personally didn’t see any usefulness to it,” she said. “I didn’t see anything accomplished by it, except I suppose bring attention to the frustrations of the people involved. But did I see anything useful coming out of the burning of Lake Street and that sort of thing? I did not.”

AP

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