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Seven to hand over documents amid Ben Roberts-Smith’s legal bill debate

Seven Network and Kerry Stokes, who backed Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation action against three mastheads, have been ordered to hand over documents that outline their involvement in the litigation.

user iconNaomi Neilson 06 July 2023 Big Law
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Federal Court’s Justice Anthony Besanko made orders on Wednesday (5 July) afternoon that Seven and Mr Stokes’ private firm, Australian Capital Equity, disclose the invoices that detail their lawyers’ work over the course of the defamation trial.

It comes after counsel for both parties unsuccessfully argued that the documents only revealed when lawyers sat in on the defamation action and would not shed light on the proceeding’s management.

 
 

At the end of June, Nine’s counsel Nicholas Owens said Mr Roberts-Smith accepted he should pay costs for mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times.

There remains a dispute as to whether indemnity costs — which are ordinarily granted in cases that are frivolous — should be paid before 17 March 2020, when the mastheads made an offer to resolve.

Justice Besanko found in favour of the mastheads in early June, ruling that they successfully established Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in the unlawful killing of unarmed Afghanistan man.

The trial, which has been labelled the largest defamation matter in Australia’s history, consisted of 125 subpoenas, 63 notices to produce, 38 interim judgments, 26 affidavits and hundreds of witnesses for each of the parties.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly after the success, MinterEllison’s partner Peter Bartlett — who represented the newspapers — said there has “never been a case like this”.

“I’ve thought about this case a million times since, and even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t believe we could have done more. I don’t believe we left a stone unturned. This was a huge, comprehensive, well-organised defence of a defamation case,” Mr Bartlett said.