With much of 2017 centred around high-profile defamation matters, Jim Micallef, special counsel at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, said the number of defamation cases could see a distinct upturn in 2018 – despite remaining relatively stable in recent years.
“I think there’s probably been a steady flow of defamation matters in this country,” Mr Micallef told My Business’ sister publication Lawyers Weekly.
“In Australia, there has been a steady flow of defamation matters commenced, and I haven’t noticed a drop or an increase. There was a drop after 1 January 2006 when the uniform defamation law came into play around the country, as a result of which, most corporations couldn’t sue; but since then it’s been pretty steady,” he explained.
“That said, I think the Rebel Wilson verdict, where people see large sums of money, will have the potential to result in an increase in defamation cases. Of course the decision only sends a message to the tabloid magazines who pay for stories and run them without checking their facts; and some plaintiffs will probably wait to see what happens to Rebel’s case on appeal.”
According to Mr Micallef, defamation cases are very different to many other legal matters, and it is high-profile cases which bring about a broader understanding of what is entailed.
“Indeed I think it remains one of the last bastions of true advocacy where you have people contesting what is true and what is not true,” he said.
“It’s very different to the usual commercial matter that you might get today where it’s about whether a contract has been breached or similar issues. This is all about facts, more often than not. Facts which involve a salacious aspect or an aspect that people are interested in.
“An example of the latter is the Rebel Wilson case, which a partner in our Melbourne office was responsible for. Rebel Wilson, of course, is a famous person and people are interested in what she’s got to say. As an advocate you get to meet those people, understand something about them and that’s always very, very interesting.
“It’s a technical area of the law, with elements of publication, different defences, etc so you get the benefit of utilising your skills as a legal technician as well.”
Another lawyer, Scott Dougall of Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers, previously wrote a piece for My Business outlining how SMEs are not immune from defamation proceedings.
“Defamation has become an increasingly relevant issue for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to consider, especially as new and improved technologies, especially in the digital arena, have broadened the platforms for two-way communication on a global scale,” he said.