Lawyers for Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm have asked a Federal Court judge to dismiss defamation proceedings brought against him by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
- Senator Leyonhjelm denies he defamed senator Hanson-Young
- His counsel argues they are “denied access to a defence on a technicality”
- Senator Hanson-Young’s lawyer says her client never said all men were rapists
Senator Hanson-Young is suing senator Leyonhjelm for defamation, claiming he attacked her character by suggesting she is a misandrist and a hypocrite and repeatedly accusing her of making the claim that all men are rapists.
In a statement of defence, Senator Leyonhjelm denied he had defamed senator Hanson-Young.
In a Federal Court hearing in Adelaide today, senator Leyonhjelm’s lawyer Kurt Stoyle asked Justice Richard White to stay the proceedings, arguing the case amounted to an abuse of process because his client could not mount a defence of justification without contravening parliamentary privilege.
“The thrust and current starting point is that the court can’t adjudicate on the claim presently before it without the parties inevitably being placed in breach of parliamentary privilege,” Mr Stoyle told the court.
The court heard senator Leyonhjelm claimed senator Hanson-Young said in Parliament that all men were rapists, something she denied and the court heard there was no evidence to suggest it happened.
Mr Stoyle told the court that meant his client could not rely on that alleged comment.
“We are being denied access to a defence on a technicality, that my client can’t lead evidence to make out the truth defence because that evidence would fall foul of parliamentary privilege,” he told the court.
Mr Stoyle said without a defence of justification, there was nothing to determine whether reputational damage was caused to “deserved or undeserved reputations”.
“In light of the loss of this very important defence, the matter should be stayed,” Mr Stoyle told the court.
Privilege would not be contravened, lawyer argues
Speaking through a video link from Sydney, senator Hanson-Young’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou told the court parliamentary privilege would not be contravened and there was no basis to the application.
She said her client never said all men were rapists and senator Leyonhjelm had not produced any evidence to support that allegation.
“The position put by the other side is untenable,” Ms Chrysanthou told the court.
“A person is not entitled to walk out of Parliament and fabricate an assertion as to what was said and attempt to defend a defamation claim under the guise of parliamentary privilege.
“A person cannot, we say, make up what was said in Parliament and seek to claim an abuse of process when a person complains they have been defamed by those lies.”
Justice reserves decision, books further hearings
Justice White reserved his decision on whether to dismiss the case.
In the meantime, he said he would continue to progress the matter by setting further hearing dates, with a case conference hearing scheduled in Adelaide in December to explore pre-trial issues including the possibility of mediation.
He set a tentative trial date in Sydney for April 2019.
Outside court, Mr Stoyle told the ABC his client would continue to defend the legal action against him.
“The point that we put to the court today is that in order to preserve the freedom of speech in the Parliament, that the court should permanently stay or dismiss these proceedings and that this is not the appropriate forum for resolving this dispute,” he said outside court.
“We say that our client can’t make out his defence of truth, our client’s case is that the comments that he made about senator Hanson-Young are true and therefore she has not been defamed.”
The senators were not present in court for today’s hearing.