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Aston verdict suggests defamation laws have pole-vaulted original purpose

Corporate and M&A
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Partner Jeremy Leibler has been on the receiving end of AFR columnist Joe Aston’s pen but in an article in today’s paper, Jeremy argues the federal court finding that Aston had defamed former Blue Sky director Elaine Stead had concerning implications.

In his judgment, Justice Michael Lee recognised the fine line between the right to freedom of expression and the right to reputation, but found that Aston had “pole-vaulted” that line, Jeremy writes.

“I don’t propose to comment on the correctness of the decision, which will likely be appealed, but it does raise the question of whether Australia’s defamation laws have pole-vaulted their original purpose.

“Defamation law was never intended to prevent insulting language, general terms of abuse, or some defamatory imputation based on a word’s archaic meaning. Nor was it intended to provide compensation for hurt feelings, which is unrelated to the protection of reputation.

“If the current media laws render journalists and commentators impotent to provide harsh commercial commentary, the operation of the market will be undermined. Defamation laws need to draw clear and robust lines that focus on the legitimate protection of reputation without disproportionately limiting free speech.”

To read Jeremy’s article, click here.

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