Very expensive day out for Shane Dowling.
The public will be permanently barred from accessing secret parts of the ABC’s written defence to former attorney-general Christian Porter’s settled defamation claim, after a judge ruled that the document should be placed in a sealed envelope in an effort to prevent “prejudice to the proper administration of justice”.
A temporary non-publication order was made by Justice Jayne Jagot in May, pending an application by Mr Porter to strike out parts of the ABC’s defence over concerns it contained scandalous, frivolous or vexatious material, as well as material that would otherwise be considered “an abuse of the process of the court”.
In May, Mr Porter dropped his legal pursuit of the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan, after the parties agreed to settle the case following mediation. As part of the settlement, the parties agreed to seek a court order that 27 pages of the broadcaster’s 37-page defence “be permanently removed from the court file”.
But a number of media organisations — including News Corp and Nine Entertainment — had sought access to the redacted part of the ABC’s 37-page defence, arguing earlier this month that an order to remove the pages from the court file would be an “exceptional” move that undermined the principles of open justice.
In a judgment published on Friday, Justice Jagot agreed to uphold the agreement between the ABC and the former attorney-general on the grounds that it was “necessary to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice”. Justice Jagot said the schedules of the defence contained allegations that would “never be the subject of judicial determination”, given the parties had settled the defamation case.
“Mr Porter’s allegations that those schedules are a form of abuse of process will also never be the subject of judicial determination. In these circumstances, and given the full compromise of all aspects of the dispute reached between the parties, I am satisfied it is necessary to give effect to (the) proposed consent order.”