PATRICK GEORGE, a partner in Minter Ellison’s commercial litigation and dispute resolution group has spent the past three years indulging his interest in the history of defamation laws, by writing a book on them.
From the days of the law’s origin — which to some degree, George said, derived its force from the Ninth Commandment, which states “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” — Defamation Law in Australia traces the history of defamation in England and Australia to the implementation of Australia’s uniform defamation laws on 1 January this year.
“The book is targeted basically at lawyers, but also publishers, journalists and students,” George said. It’s timing with the introduction of the uniform defamation laws has enabled it to examine the new sections of the law.
The idea for the book was originally conceived before that of the new laws, and was intended to explain the basic principles of defamation law. “I was very interested in the history of defamation law, because you get a good understanding of how it came about and why it is what it is today,” George said.
“I researched the history of the law in Australia and then had to research its history in England. I was able to shape the book so that it dealt with a number of issues which are then reflected in today’s law as the new act has put them.”
Also, George wanted to “identify the truth” behind certain elements often dealt with in defamation — such as the origins of the quote “publish or be damned” and the connection between defamation laws and the practice of duelling.
“In researching the history I was particularly interested in the statement that the defamation action was actually brought into place to get rid of the practice of duelling,” George said. “I wanted to research that and understand wha the relationship was.”
That relationship is covered in a section of the book. Defamation Law in Australia is published by LexisNexis and is expected to be in bookstores before Easter.