News organisations have been permanently banned from publishing secret parts of the ABC’s legal defence against Christian Porter.
On Tuesday federal court justice Jayne Jagot ruled the ABC’s unredacted defence, which was handed over to lawyers for Nine and News Corp as part of an attempt to argue for public access to the document, could not be “for any purpose” other than their court applications.
Porter, the former attorney general, agreed to drop his defamation case against the ABC in May despite failing to secure an apology or retraction from the public broadcaster over an online news article that reported allegations an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of raping a woman in the 1980s. Porter subsequently identified himself as the minister and strenuously denied the allegations. The ABC agreed to add an editor’s note to the article stating that it did not intend to suggest Porter had committed the alleged offence, and that “both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”
Despite discontinuing the case, a series of court hearings have been heard as Nine and News sought access to 27 redacted pages of the ABC’s legal defence in the case.
Last month Jagot found against the media companies in their bid to have the document released to the public, ruling the defence should be removed from the court’s file “to prevent prejudice to proper administration of justice”.
As part of that application, the entire document had been handed over to lawyers for the media companies. After the case was lost, Porter’s lawyers argued the media companies could not use the secret parts of the defence “for any purpose other than” those proceedings.
The media companies had not agreed to that. In her judgment on Tuesday, Jagot said lawyers for the companies had told Porter they were “not willing to provide confirmation that ‘the relevant materials provided to your firm as intervenors in these proceedings will not be used for any purpose other than these proceedings which have now been discontinued’”.
Porter filed an application seeking to prevent the media companies using the documents for any other purpose, and on Tuesday Jagot sided with the former attorney general, ordering Nine and News Corp not to use the secret parts of the defence “other than for the purpose of being heard” in the previous application.
She found that the media companies would not have had access to the documents if they had not been granted for the purposes of the previous hearing, which they had lost.
“In short, a person obtaining documents in the circumstances in which the intervening parties obtained them in the present case should not be able to use the documents for any purpose other than the purpose for which they were provided access to the documents unless and until those documents are otherwise lawfully made public,” she wrote.