There’s been a twist in former attorney-general Christian Porter’s defamation case against the ABC, with a friend of the alleged rape victim lodging a court action to remove Mr Porter’s barrister from the case due to an alleged conflict of interest.
Barrister Sue Crysanthou has so far represented Mr Porter, who is suing the ABC over a story about an unnamed cabinet minister accused of an historical alleged rape.
Mr Porter, who later revealed he was the subject of the accusation, has categorically denied the allegation.
His case is that he was defamed because he was identifiable from the material in the story.
An odd situation
There have already been some disruptions in the case since the ABC filed its defence.
Much of the broadcaster’s defence hasn’t been publicly released, with Mr Porter lodging an immediate application to have some of the case struck out.
Arrangements to hear that application were to be made today, but Justice Jayne Jagot — who is presiding over the defamation proceedings — started the hearing warning she may have to delay the matter, or ask Ms Crysanthou to quarantine herself from the case until the conflict-of-interest issue was resolved.
It’s an odd situation
The challenge to Ms Crysanthou, which is a separate court action, has not been launched by the ABC, but by Joanne Dyer, a friend of the alleged rape victim referred to in the story Mr Porter is suing over.
The court heard she was once a client of Ms Crysanthou.
Risking a ‘dreadful precedent’
Barrister Bret Walker, who represented Ms Crysanthou in this morning’s hearing, told the court Ms Dyer was effectively a stranger to the court.
He rejected the idea Ms Crysanthou should quarantine herself from the case.
“The threat is to Mr Porter’s right to his choice of counsel to appear,” Mr Walker told the court.
“Judges do not dictate to parties who will represent them. Choice of counsel is not a lottery, people choose counsel for a reason.
“It would set a most dreadful precedent.”
He also rejected the idea of a stay — a temporary halt in the case.
But Justice Jagot decided to delay the arrangements for the strike out application until after the conflict of issue claim was resolved at court in May.
Minutes later Justice Thomas Thawley called on a case management hearing for the challenge to Ms Crysanthou.
Lawyers in the case told the court they would need at least three days for the hearing, which is expected to involve cross examination of several witnesses.
Earlier Ms Crysanthou had asked the court to bring on the main defamation case before the end of the year.
There’s no talk about that being in doubt yet.
But even the lawyers admit things are tight, with case management of the strike out application put off until just days before the formal hearing, and Ms Crysanthou’s position possibly hanging in the balance until late May.