The Wellington legal team of Peter McKnight and Ali Romanos achieved a major defamation win with the recent Court of Appeal decision that reversed the earlier hefty damages award in favour of former National MP Stephen Joyce made by Justice Pheroze in the High Court.
The Court of Appeal decision of Justices Forrie Miller, David Goddard and Brendan Brown was an emphatic victory for the defamation duo and an equally solid rejection of the decision made last year by Justice Jagose with the Court saying that the meaning of the passages of the article with which Joyce took issue were not in fact defamatory.
The original case was brought by NBR’s lawyers, Phil Ahern at Morrison Kent, Auckland, who subsequently briefed the Wellington barristers to handle the appeal.
Ali Romanos, noted as one of LawFuel’s Up-and-Coming litigators in our recent article about the group.
Stephen Joyce’s lawyer was another leading litigator recorded by LawFuel, Zane Kennedy, formerly of MinterEllisonRuddWatts and now at Mills Lane Chambers.
The article at the centre of the case, written in March 2018, was highly critical of Joyce’s time in Government, alleging that Joyce had used former National minister Amy Adams as a “proxy” and favoured telco Chorus in his political dealings.
Stephen Joyce vehemently denied the allegation and sued the NBR and then columnist Matthew Hooton, who issued an apology. However in the subsequent Court proceeding
NBR publisher Todd Scott tweeted about the matter, defending the allegations, saying its sources were “solid” and he intended to subpoena five people “from the shadow cabinet” that would back up Hooton’s statements made in the NBR column.
Justice Pheroze Jagose said the article and tweets implied Joyce was prepared to engage in unethical and improper conduct to pursue his and his party’s political objectives, saying the statements were defamatory and ordered NBR to pay Joyce almost $270,000 in costs.
Joyce did not actually claim for malicious falsehood or punitive damages in respect of his claim. The NBR lawyers pleaded that the apologies that were forthcoming from both Hooton and the newspaper itself, as well as via social media, were more than enough to satisfy the court that Stephen Joyce was not unethical, corrupt or dishonest in any way.
The Court of Appeal held that the colourful language expressed in the column was “exaggerated” by Hooton, known to be somewhat provocative, with the legal team arguing that it was expressed in the context of a highly charged political situation.
LawFuel understands that the Joyce lawyers had sought to ‘tone down’ the meanings of the column as originally pleaded but were denied the ability to do so, thus being left with the ‘extravagant’ claims that went to trial.
The court ordered Joyce to also pay Fourth Estate Ltd, the NBR owner, and Todd Scott’s legal costs.
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