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Evan Whitton
17 November, 2004  
Libel law based on lies distributes cash to liars. Now Ruddock wants to let criminals sue from the grave

Remember all those crooks who told lies under oath and won their defamation cases? Now first law officer P. Ruddock wants to allow criminals to sue from the grave.

imageWho is the most revered lawyer? Atticus Finch (seen here) has many admirers, including shadow AG Nicola Roxon, and Court TV’s Catherine Crier, who even dedicated The Case Against Lawyers to that fictional herpetoid.

But even the noble Finch, like all defence lawyers, had a terrible fear of the truth. He said: “Never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you dont already know the answer to”

For Best on Ground, it is hard to go past Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. They knew they would be murdered, but doggedly brought 344 Sicilian organised criminals to justice.

Their heroism is a reproach to the deafening silence of lawyers, including judges and academics, on the continuing absence of fairness in, say, libel law.

Geoffrey Robertson QC said in The Justice [!] Game [!!]: “London is the libel capital of the world because English law heavily favours the plaintiffs So there have been celebrated cases where newspapers have published the truth, yet lost”

Sydney also claims that prestigious title, and for the same reason. Wretched precedent has produced libel law based on a string of lies: appearance is more important than reality; slurs are always wrong, always intentional, and always cause damage.

Result 1. Scoundrels, as well as the wrongly vilified, are encouraged to sue.

Result 2. The 142 libel actions pending in Sydney in 1991 were nearly twice the number of libel suits filed annually in the whole of the USA, where the onus is on the plaintiff rather than the defendant.

Result 3. Liars and their lawyers get large sums of money from honest soldiers for truth, e.g. the unspeakable Jeffrey Archer. And others:

image Politician Jack Profumo (pictured here), who falsely denied that he and Christine Keeler jumped into Lord Astors swimming pool and engaged in carnal congress therein.

Pianist Wladziu Valentino Liberace, who falsely swore he was heterosexual. Politicians Aneurin Bevan, Dick Crossman and Morgan Phillips, who falsely denied they were “pissed as newts” at a conference of Italian Socialists in Venice. Lord (Bob) Boothby, who falsely denied he had a sexual relationship with an organised criminal, Ronnie Kray. Junie Morosi, a secretary, who falsely denied she had sex with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. The former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Dr Jim Cairns, who falsely swore he did not have an adulterous affair with Ms Morosi. Industrialist Sir Les Thiess, who falsely denied he was corrupt. NSW Police Commissioner Fred Hanson, ditto. Dr John Bodkin Adams, who falsely denied he was a serial killer of Eastbourne widows. Newspaper proprietor, megalomaniac, and libel terrorist Bob Maxwell, who falsely denied, among much else, that he was an asset-stripper. Sir Robin Askin, statesman, who falsely denied he was an organised criminal, would probably have got money from John Hatton, but sadly died before the case got on.

Now and doubtless to thunderous huzzahs from the libel bar first law officer P. Ruddock, 61, wants to let organised criminals sue from the grave.

imageI reminded him that Voltaire (right) observed in 1785: “We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth,” and that any such legislation would inevitably be dubbed the Askin/Murphy clause in honour of Bob and a learned High Court judge.

Mr Ruddock would do better to honour a Coalition undertaking, now 18 years old and fraying slightly at the edges, that when next in office they would publish the papers of a judicial inquiry said to have found 14 cases of Lionels possible crimes.