Film star Geoffrey Rush has won a temporary order preventing the defence filed by Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph from being made public, in his defamation suit over articles alleging he had behaved inappropriately towards a female coworker.
In a case management hearing on Thursday morning, lawyers representing Rush, the Daily Telegraph publisher Nationwide News, and Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment, argued whether the defence in the high profile defamation suit should be made public.
Rush is suing the publishers of The Daily Telegraph and journalist Jonathon Moran over two articles published in late November 2017 that alleged he behaved inappropriately towards a female cast member during a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear.
Rush denies the allegations and filed for defamation in December.
His lawyers are now seeking to strike out entirely the defence put forward by Nationwide News, and to prevent the document from being provided to the media.
At the hearing in the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday morning, Rush's barrister, Richard McHugh SC, labelled the defence "completely hopeless" and argued it should not be made public as it contains allegations beyond those published in The Daily Telegraph that could further harm Rush's reputation.
McHugh said that if the defence was made public, journalists could publish those allegations "with impunity" as part of a fair court report and Rush would have no redress.
He rejected a redacted version of the defence being circulated, saying that so much of it would have to be redacted that there would be no point in releasing it.
The lawyers clashed over whether The Daily Telegraph articles implied Rush had committed sexual misconduct. McHugh argued that the lack of detail on what Rush had actually done coupled with the context of the article did imply the allegations were of a sexual nature.
Counsel for Nationwide News Lyndelle Barnett disagreed, saying the articles did not allege sexual misconduct on the part of Rush.
At one point, justice Michael Wigney stopped to note that he had seen that particular production of King Lear in the early part of its season, but the lawyers agreed that it was not relevant to the proceedings.
Barrister Dauid Sibtain, representing third party media companies Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, argued that the defence should be made public.
McHugh also argued that the fact the articles remain online mean Rush is being defamed on an ongoing basis, offering up to the bench copies that had been printed that morning.
"It is reported in articles that my client has an international reputation," he told the court. "The damage the publication is doing to Mr Rush's reputation is ongoing because the two articles are still online."
Wigney ordered that the defence must remain confidential until the case is in court to hear arguments on whether the defence should be struck out later this month, noting that Nationwide News will file an amended defence next week.
He also granted Sibtain access to the court documents, provided they are only viewed by Sibtain himself and his instructing solicitors.
Presently, journalists can access the statement of claim filed by Rush’s lawyers, but not the Nationwide News defence.
Rush was not in court for the hearing. The case is back in court on February 19.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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