21:57, November 05 84 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-05 21:57:04
Geoffrey Rush defamation trial: judge throws out bid to introduce mystery witness

The Daily Telegraph has been blocked in its eleventh-hour bid to introduce a new witness in its defamation case against the Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush.

On Tuesday the federal court judge Michael Wigney told the court he had decided not to allow the Sydney newspaper to make a change to its legal defence to admit the evidence of “Witness X”.

He also made a non-publication order in relation to Witness X’s identity and the details of her claim.

Wigney conceded that the new evidence was capable of supporting three general defamatory imputations at the centre of the case, including that Rush was a “pervert” and had engaged in inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature in the theatre.

But he said the potential for prejudice against Rush by the delay the evidence would cause was “manifest and palpable” and “individually and cumulatively well-outweighed” the benefits of allowing it.

Describing the Telegraph’s defence in the case as “a movable feast”, Wigney referred to the “delay and prejudice” the actor would suffer if the new evidence were allowed.

Rush is suing the Telegraph over a series of articles published in November and December in 2017 alleging he had behaved inappropriately towards a cast member, Eryn Jean Norvill, during a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The trial is now in its third week, having previously heard testimony from Rush, Norvill and a roll call of Australian film, television and theatre personalities.

Last week the court heard the trial between the tabloid newspaper and Rush would have to be delayed until at least April next year had the newspaper had been allowed to call the witness.

The Telegraph sought to admit Witness X’s evidence after it was contacted last Friday by Norvill’s solicitor, the Arnold Bloch Leibler partner Leon Zwier, with information that the witness would be willing to give evidence.

Last week the Daily Telegraph’s barrister, Tom Blackburn SC, told the court the new witness would help the newspaper defend imputations that it alleged Rush was a “pervert, a sexual predator and of inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.

Wigney said most of the imputations alleged by Rush went to specific acts during the King Lear production, and Witness X’s evidence could only go to “general imputations”.

“The proposed new particulars and evidence of Witness X can at their very highest only go to establishing the substantial truth of [the] general imputations,” he said.

The Telegraph attempted to amend its defence on a number of occasions in the lead-up to the trial. Wigney said it had sought to “frustrate and impede” the actor’s attempts for a speedy trial and described his previous characterisation of its conduct in the lead-up to the trial as “unsatisfactory” as “if anything … an understatement”.

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