Barrister Lloyd Rayney’s defamation suit against the State of WA has been put on hold until an impending appeal of his murder acquittal is dealt with by the courts.
The WA Supreme Court yesterday (15 January) dismissed Rayney’s application to force the State to file an amended defence in response to defamation allegations. The application was an attempt to prompt orders for discovery and inspection in the civil proceedings, which had remained dormant since April 2010 pending the outcome of Rayney’s murder trial.
Justice James Edelman acknowledged that the trial decision required the State to amend its defence. But he backed his decision to reject the application by arguing that it would be impractical to launch separate trials when issues raised in the criminal case, which includes an appeal, will influence the defamation suit.
“It is appropriate in the interests of all parties that the application for leave to appeal in relation to the wilful murder and manslaughter charges be concluded before any substantial decisions – such as holding separate trials of liability and quantum – be made in this defamation proceeding,” Edelman stated in his judgment.
Rayney lodged a defamation lawsuit against the WA Government in 2009 claiming he was “greatly injured” when, in 2007, police officer Senior Sgt Jack Lees allegedly identified him as the “prime” and “only” suspect in his wife’s death.
In November last year, weeks after being acquitted of wilful murder and manslaughter, Rayney stated his intention to proceed with the defamation case in the Supreme Court. Rayney, who had high-profile clients including Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, blames the comments made by Lees for alleged damage to his legal career.
In addition to compensation for distress and anxiety, Rayney is seeking aggravated damages for loss of revenue, loss of expected future earnings and loss of the opportunity to be appointed senior counsel, which could cost the WA Government millions of dollars.
Toby Nisbet, a lecturer at the School of Law & Justice at Edith Cowen University, told Lawyers Weekly in November that the murder acquittal does not make the civil suit an open-and-shut case.
“Different considerations and different burdens of proof apply [when deciding] whether naming Rayney as the prime and only suspect was, as a matter of law, defamatory and without a defence.”
Meanwhile, Rayney has provided an undertaking to the Legal Practice Board of WA that he will cease engaging in legal practice. The industry body, which governs who can practise law in the state, confirmed to Lawyers Weekly last year that it was examining Justice Brian Martin’s judgment in the murder trial, which accused Rayney of giving false evidence to a court while under oath.
If the perjury charges are pursued, Rayney could be struck off the roll of legal practitioners, according to Nisbet.
Rayney was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife Corryn, who worked as a Supreme Court registrar, in December 2010, more than three years after her body was found in Perth’s Kings Park.