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Former WA barrister wins $350k defamation payout

Lloyd Rayney, a former barrister and Crown prosecutor based in Perth, has been awarded $350,000 over remarks made by a forensic investigator imputing that he had murdered his wife.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 03 November 2022 The Bar
Former WA barrister wins $350k defamation payout
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In a judgment handed down earlier this week, Justice Jenni Hill of the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled in favour of Mr Rayney against Dr Mark Reynolds, who made comments at a 2014 event that were determined to have imputed that Mr Rayney had “got away” with the murder of Corryn Rayney, his late wife.

In August 2007, Mrs Rayney’s body was found buried in Kings Park, Perth, after she had gone missing nine days earlier. Just over three years later, Mr Rayney was charged with her murder, or alternatively, her unlawful killing. Following a judge-only trial in 2012, he was acquitted of all charges, with the state’s appeal being dismissed in September 2013.

In 2019, the West Australian State Administrative Tribunal recommended Mr Rayney be removed from the roll of solicitors after he was found guilty of professional misconduct for knowingly recording at least seven conversations with his late wife without her knowledge or consent, and then knowingly giving false evidence about those recordings.

 
 

He lost his bid, in August 2019, to remain on the roll, and in April 2020, he was struck off.

At the 2014 event in question — a presentation on circumstantial forensic cases, hosted to the West Australian branch of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society — Dr Reynolds was said to have made two defamatory comments: one, in response to a question asked by an audience member, and two, during a conversation with an attendee after the presentation.

The first comment involved Dr Reynolds interjecting to a question asked of a presenter by an audience member to say that there was “no need for a cold case review [of the murder of Mrs Rayney] the offender was identified”.

Dr Reynolds admitted to saying these words and was further purported to have said, “None of this talk about, ‘Hey someone else did it’”. He did not specifically plead about this particular remark.

The second comment saw Dr Reynolds say, in conversation with an audience member following the presentation, that “we know who the offender is”. He denied that Mr Rayney’s pleaded imputations arose from this remark.

Mr Rayney argued that the words used by Dr Reynolds bore the imputation that he had murdered his wife, and in addition or alternatively, that the true innuendo of the words used by Dr Reynolds bore the imputation that he had got away with the murder of his wife.

Hill J concluded that the first comment made by Dr Reynolds bore the defamatory imputation that Mr Rayney had murdered his wife, and that the second comment was a “composite publication with the first comment”.

Dr Reynolds’ defence that his comments were “true in fact” could not be sustained, Her Honour determined, and Mr Rayney has established the circumstances of aggravation upon which he relied in his pleadings.

Five years ago, Mr Rayney was awarded $2.6 million in damages, after being named by Western Australia Police in 2007 as the “prime” and “only” suspect in the murder of his wife. However, Hill J did not consider that the awarding of damages in that instance “mitigates to any significant extent” the amount that should be awarded to Mr Rayney in this case.

Her Honour ruled that Mr Rayney be awarded damages for non-economic loss of $350,000.

“Whilst it may be the case that there are members of the community who have a view that Mr Rayney murdered his wife, the views of these members of the community (as well as those who are ‘in between’) may be reinforced by the words used by Dr Reynolds, as the senior forensic investigating officer with the Western Australia Police Force, in the first comment and second comment,” Hill J espoused.

“On this basis, I accept and find that Dr Reynolds’ words have had an impact on the reputation of Mr Rayney and that any award of damages needs to vindicate his reputation.”

Outside the court, and as reported by ABC, Mr Rayney said the judgment showed that even senior police were accountable for what he called their “serious wrongdoings”.

“But more important than this case is that more than 15 years afterwards, and after wasting $20 million persecuting an innocent man, there is still no justice for Corryn, for Caitlyn and for Sarah (his daughters),” he said.

Dr Reynolds has expressed disappointment with the outcome and indicated that he might appeal.

“I think most people can’t afford to write a cheque for $480,000, but we’ll see what happens there,” he said.

The case is RAYNEY v REYNOLDS [No 4] [2022] WASC 360.