There has been a major development in Christian Porter’s defamation case against the ABC.
Both parties have agreed to begin mediation, in an attempt to settle the Industry Minister’s defamation claim against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over reporting of rape allegations against him.
A Federal Court order made with the parties’ consent on Thursday allows them to provide unredacted copies of the ABC’s defence and Mr Porter’s reply to any mediator in connection with the proceedings.
The Guardian is reporting the mediation will begin on Friday.
Mr Porter’s lawyer has told The Australian that both sides were complying with their obligations as Federal Court litigants by attempting mediation.
In a statement to The Guardian, Mr Porter’s solicitor, Rebekah Giles, said mediations were “a requirement in almost all defamation cases”.
“And parties ought to engage in a mediation at the earliest possible opportunity before significant costs are incurred. The parties to this case are no different and are complying with their obligations as litigants in the federal court,” she said.
Thursday’s revelations came after a Federal Court judge retired to decide whether Mr Porter’s high-profile barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC should be stopped from acting for him.
The court heard earlier that Mr Porter’s lawyer did not give an accurate or full account of critical information discussed with a friend of the woman who had accused him of rape.
In his closing address on Thursday, Michael Hodge QC said evidence Ms Chrysanthou gave about what was said in a November 2020 conference with Jo Dyer was inconsistent and did not make sense.
This meeting is at the centre of Ms Dyer’s application to bench the defamation specialist from representing the former attorney-general in his case against the ABC and Milligan.
Ms Dyer says she told Ms Chrysanthou confidential information during the course of their meeting, but the barrister submits nothing of substance was discussed.
A claim Ms Chrysanthou made about what her colleague Matthew Richardson had said to her was in fact said by somebody else, Mr Hodge said.
“He told me that he was worried for me and that his friends were upset or behaving like a cult on this topic, and that they wouldn’t let it go and that they would talk to the media and make it very bad for me,” Ms Chrysanthou told the court on Wednesday.
“It is inherently improbable … the words she put in his mouth while she was being cross-examined,” Mr Hodge said.
Mr Richardson set up the meeting asking Ms Chrysanthou to advise Ms Dyer about a possible defamation claim over an article in The Australian.
He later emailed her to say he believed she had a conflict of interest and could not act for Mr Porter.
Mr Porter’s silk Christopher Withers SC said whether there was confidential information shared was at the heart of the debate.
Assuming there was a ruling it was in fact confidential, Mr Withers questioned how it could be used, saying a lot of it reflected negatively upon Mr Porter.
Ms Dyer was not a party to the proceedings and was not necessarily going to be called in as a witness at the trial, Mr Withers said.
But given the fact she had been named in the pleading meant there was a high possibility this would occur, Mr Hodge contended.
“You don’t have very many cases where somebody is named in a pleading and it’s said no likelihood they will be called in as a witness,” Mr Hodge said.
Mr Withers also argued there would be a disparity in resources given the skilled lawyer had spent several months working on the case, and the ABC were allowed their first choice in barrister.
Mr Porter filed to sue the ABC in March after it published the existence of allegations that he’d raped a woman in 1988. The woman took her own life last year.
Justice Tom Thawley will decide whether Ms Chrysanthou can continue to act for the now-industry, science and technology minister on Thursday afternoon.
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