Seventy-two year old Sydney criminal barrister Chris Murphy was described in a Daily Telegraph article as being ‘over the hill’ and ‘too old and deaf’ to properly represent his clients in court.
But the words from the newspaper and their journalist Annette Sharp have resulted in a $110,000 damages award from the newspaper to the high profile barrister with the federal court rejecting the Daily Telegraph’s defence that their representations were “true in substance”.
His barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC argued in court that the article claimed Murphy was “past it” and “over the hill” as a result of his age and deafness.
Federal Court Justice Michael Lee found that the article defamed the criminal barrister by suggesting he was incapable of representing his clients’ best interests because of his age and hearing problems.
“As anyone experienced in litigation would be aware, many barristers and judges, including a recent highly distinguished judge of the Supreme Court of NSW, have had significant hearing difficulties,” Justice Lee said.
The court heard that Mr Murphy has used hearing aids for many years.
In his judgment, Justice Lee rejected the submission put forward by Nationwide News and Ms Sharp that Mr Murphy was unable to appear in court because of his hearing aids.
“As anyone experienced in litigation would be aware, many barristers and judges, including a recent highly distinguished judge of the Supreme Court of NSW, have had significant hearing difficulties,” the judgment read.
“Other participants in court proceedings just need to adjust.”
The judge said he did not accept the inference that since August 2019 Murphy has been unwilling or unable to represent clients in court because of his hearing loss.
Instead, he accepted Mr Murphy’s evidence that his less frequent appearances in court were due to him taking on the more strategic role of “rainmaker” within his law firm.
The Judge found that his decision was a matter of “choice” rather than “inability”.
He said Murphy had been practising as a solicitor for 49 years and was “not a man wracked by self-doubt or vexed by a lack of confidence” in his abilities.
In his evidence, Mr Murphy said he was shocked and upset by the “untruths” in the article and the fact it was still accessible online made him feel like he was “drowning in lies”.
The judge found that some of the evidence regarding the extent of the hurt suffered by the self-described “robust alpha male” had been “a tad exaggerated”.
He rejected a claim for aggravated damages and instead found Mr Murphy was entitled to $110,000 in general damages.