News Sophie Mirabella awarded $175,000 in damages

Sophie Mirabella awarded $175,000 in damages

Sophie Mirabella defamation
Sophie Mirabella arrives at court during her defamation case. Photo: AAP
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Former federal Liberal politician Sophie Mirabella says she feels vindicated by her $175,000 defamation win and hopes it serves as a “sober lesson” on media behaviour.

Ms Mirabella was awarded $175,000 in damages in the County Court in Melbourne on Wednesday after being defamed by a regional Victorian newspaper.

The 49-year-old successfully sued the weekly newspaper The Benalla Ensign and its editor Libby Price this month, over an April 2016 article that claimed the former MP had pushed another politician out of the way during a photo opportunity.

Outside court, Ms Mirabella lauded the “great judgment” and “sensible decision”.

“[The judge] has found the defendants acted recklessly and that their behaviour afterwards aggravated the damage to me and I think that’s very important,” Ms Mirabella said.

“Whether you’re a politician or whether you’re a member of the public, you should not be subjected to media behaviour that I was subjected to and subsequent behaviour.

“Perhaps this is a sober lesson to them regarding the manner in which they go about collecting information for their stories and behaving afterwards.”

Earlier this month, a six-person jury found in favour of Ms Mirabella, after a trial at Wangaratta.

Ms Mirabella told the five-day trial the article had a devastating personal impact.

It was published before a federal election when she had hoped to win back the seat of Indi from incumbent Cathy McGowan. The article, titled “Awkward encounter”, claimed Ms Mirabella had pushed Ms McGowan out of the way during a photo opportunity.

Months later, the newspaper admitted the push did not occur and apologised, but by then the election had passed and Ms Mirabella said the damage to her character had been done.

Ms Mirabella’s barrister, Georgina Schoff QC, had argued that significant damages were appropriate due to the hurt caused by the article.

After Wednesday’s judgment, Ms Mirabella said she felt vindicated by the verdict and buoyed by supporters.

“I was really pleased with the unanimous jury decision that found in my favour. It was a really big relief and vindication for my family and my two young girls as well,” she said.

She said she felt compelled to take action because she felt she had to “draw the line” at the accusations.

“I hope that others do look at the decision and the detailed facts and what the judge has said about particular behaviour and I hope … it improves adherence to certain standards within journalism,” she said.

Judge Michael Macnamara will rule on costs next Thursday.

The maximum amount that can be awarded for non-economic loss for defamation in Victoria is $389,500.