A judge has ordered The Daily Telegraph to pay $110,000 in damages to a high-profile lawyer for suggesting he was “too old and deaf” to represent his clients in court.
Chris Murphy, 72, sued Nationwide News, publisher of The Daily Telegraph, and journalist Annette Sharp for defamation over an article published in October 2020.
His barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC argued in court that the article claimed Mr Murphy was “past it” and “over the hill”.
She said it suggested he was so ravaged by age and deafness, he was unfit to practise as a lawyer.
Federal Court Justice Michael Lee found that the article defamed Mr Murphy by suggesting he was incapable of representing his clients’ best interests because of his age and hearing problems.
The court heard that Mr Murphy has used hearing aids for many years.
Justice Lee found the story was defamatory of him as a professional and rejected The Daily Telegraph‘s defence that their representations were “true in substance”.
In his judgment, Justice Lee rejected the submission put forward by Nationwide News and Ms Sharp that Mr Murphy was unable to appear in court because of his hearing aids.
“As anyone experienced in litigation would be aware, many barristers and judges, including a recent highly distinguished judge of the Supreme Court of NSW, have had significant hearing difficulties,” the judgment read.
“Other participants in court proceedings just need to adjust.”
Justice Lee noted that with the use of his hearing aids Mr Murphy had “experienced no difficulty in hearing what was going on” during the defamation proceedings.
The judge said he did not accept the inference that since August 2019 Mr Murphy has been unwilling or unable to represent clients in court because of his hearing loss.
Instead, he accepted Mr Murphy’s evidence that his less frequent appearances in court were due to him taking on the more strategic role of “rainmaker” within his law firm.
Justice Lee found it was a matter of “choice” rather than “inability”.
He said Mr Murphy had been practising as a solicitor for 49 years and was “not a man wracked by self-doubt or vexed by a lack of confidence” in his abilities.
In his evidence, Mr Murphy said he was shocked and upset by the “untruths” in the article and the fact it was still accessible online made him feel like he was “drowning in lies”.
The judge found that some of the evidence regarding the extent of the hurt suffered by the self-described “robust alpha male” had been “a tad exaggerated”.
He rejected a claim for aggravated damages and instead found Mr Murphy was entitled to $110,000 in general damages.
The case was adjourned until April 21 for final orders.