‘Real difficulties’ in Roberts-Smith’s transition of defamation to interstate trial: judge

The judge presiding on the basis of defamation of war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith said there were significant barriers to moving the case to the interstate to prevent the worsening spread of COVID-19 in NSW but he had not yet decided this. .

Mr. Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, had previously asked the Federal Court to consider the transfer against The age at The Sydney Morning Herald at a venue outside NSW, pointing to Adelaide and Canberra as potential alternatives.

Ben Roberts-Smith appeared in Federal Court in June.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Mr. McClintock told the court earlier this week that “the stress on my client and the suffering it caused him was very, very good” and his “life was on hold” until after the trial.

At a hearing scheduled Friday, Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko said that “so far I see real difficulties in moving the proceedings,” but he will share the issue with the parties again on Wednesday.

“We can move and then see that there is an outbreak in the state we moved,” Justice Besanko said. “Overall, I see some difficulties there but I’m open to whatever the parties want to put on me.”

On Friday, NSW recorded 136 new cases of COVID-19 in the community, a new record in the current outbreak of the highly transmitted Delta strain of the virus. Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said he had advised the state government that it was a “national emergency”.

Justice Besanko last month called for a minimum four-week stop on the trial, which enters the fourth week of the expected run of up to 10 weeks, after Greater Sydney went into lockdown.

The trial will resume on Monday for the limited purpose of hearing urgent evidence from four Afghan witnesses in Kabul via an audiovisual link, after newspapers there warned there of the danger of a Taliban -led terrorist attack in capital city. Only the parties and their attorneys are present in court.

Barrister Nicholas Owens, SC, who acts for media outlets, said “the situation was really fluid since the time Mr. McClintock proposed the Adelaide solution … it may seem like the solution” but “Adelaide is would be worse than Sydney ”in relation to travel restrictions.

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