A leading defamation lawyer who has taken on the likes of Alan Jones said he was not surprised Andrew Bolt lost his case.
Patrick George, a Sydney-based partner with global law firm Kennedys, spoke to Lawyers Weekly ahead of the December launch of the second edition of his book, Defamation Law in Australia.
While the recent Federal Court case involving Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt found he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act, George said the decision had ramifications on the conduct of the press in many areas.
"The decision will inhibit freedom of speech where there is a claim against the press in respect of something they publish, which might be a breach of discrimination laws," said George. "In Bolt's case, the finding was that the article had a number of statements that were untrue. When you get that, and that's what the argument was about, you are likely to be found liable."
George is one of Australia's most well known defamation and dispute resolution lawyers. He acted for John Coates in 2008 in a defamation action brought against Alan Jones that awarded Coates $360,000 plus interest and costs. George has also acted for the Australian Rugby Union and Australian Rugby League on contractual issues.
He said the issues in the Bolt case overlap with many issues arising out of defamation proceedings.
"In order to defend an article based on opinion, you need to establish the underlying factual basis," he said. "If that is not true, the opinion defence will fail, and that might impact on freedom of speech."
George's book also deals with the media and privacy laws and he analyses the impact of recent developments in the United Kingdom, where a large body of case law dealing with privacy injunctions is starting to develop.
George said it was imperative that Australia had uniform defamation laws and he hoped that the current review of the NSW Defamation Act being conducted by the state's Attorney-General, Greg Smith, took into account similar legislation throughout the rest of Australia.
"There is no point in NSW coming to a view about something and wanting to change the law, and none of the other states agreeing with that," he said. "In this day and age, with many forms of communication crossing state borders and the like, it is unhelpful to have different legislation in different states."
Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland will launch George's book.
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