Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney has been awarded $2.62 million in damages for loss of income and damage to his reputation and distress, after a finding that a series of police press conferences in 2007 were defamatory.
During the press conference on 20 September, detective senior sergeant Jack Lee named Mr Rayney as the “prime” and “only” suspect for the killing of his estranged wife.
Corryn Rayney’s buried body was discovered in Kings Park in 2007. The 44-year-old Supreme Court registrar had been missing for eight days.
A decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Western Australia last week found that the press conferences from 10 years ago “bore an imputation” and “gave rise to a reasonable suspicion” that the prominent barrister had murdered his wife.
It is believed that the WA government’s multimillion-dollar payout to Mr Rayney will be one of the biggest defamation awards in Australian legal history, however falls far beneath the $10.7 million claim the barrister was pursuing the state for. Recent media reports have said that WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt understood the government was considering appealing the award.
Mr Rayney was acquitted of the murder of his wife in 2012, in a judge-alone trial presided over by Justice Brian Martin. At the time, the judge said that the state’s arguments were “beset by improbabilities and uncertainties”, and that attempts by prosecutors to fill critical gaps were “no more than speculation without foundation”.
Last week the court ordered that Mr Rayney was entitled to damages for economic loss for three years, from the time of the 2007 defamation until he was charged with murder in 2010. No award was ordered for permanent damages to reputation and future earnings.
While legal costs concerning Mr Rayney’s defamation proceedings have not been resolved, it is understood that the amount could exceed his $2.6 million damages payout.
Mr Rayney was also successful in December 2016, when an application by the WA Legal Profession Complaints Committee and (LPCC) and Legal Practice Board to cancel his practising certificate was dismissed by the WA State Administrative Tribunal.