Hagamans v Little – summing up

Today in the defamation case brought by Earl and Lani Hagaman against Labour leader Andrew Little the judge will sum up the case who will then hand over the decision making to the jury. Unless there is a quick decision we may not find out a verdict until next week.

Yesterday the lawyers gave their closing addresses.

Stuff sums up in: Andrew Little ‘cruel and cynical’ in Hagaman comments, defamation jury told

Labour leader Andrew Little was “unfair, cruel and cynical” when attacking millionaire hotel owners involved in a Niue resort deal, a High Court jury has been told.

However, Little’s defence team said he was acting in his moral duty as leader of the opposition when questioning government involvement in the deal.

Little’s lawyer John Tizard said…

…Little had “a social or moral duty as the leader of the opposition to respond to questions raised by members of the public”.

The thrust of his comments were aimed at the Government, not Earl Hagaman, due to his suspicion and concern about its track record.

While the Hagamans claimed Little had made allegations of corruption “as a matter of fact”, Tizard said he had simply raised questions about the donation and contract award and requested they be answered by the Auditor General.

“It’s not an allegation that it wasn’t above board, it’s a question of whether it was or wasn’t above board.”

Little did what he could in the time he had to check the facts of the issue, and confined himself to the matter at hand rather than making irrelevant assertions.

Except there doesn’t appear to have been any facts to check – Little has (in a round about way) conceded there were none to back his allegations.

“You will make what you will of his evidence, but I suggest to you you may well conclude if anything Mr Little was overly upright in what he saw as his responsibility as leader of the opposition.”

While Little had used strong language, Tizard said he was expressing his opinion in a way that many others would choose to do.

“The mere fact it was colourful does not mean it was inflammatory.”

Comments reported in stories on TVNZ and RNZ were “cut and paste exercises” where only a small excerpt of his overall remarks were broadcast, and the jury could not be sure he had been fairly represented.

It started with a statement put out by Little.

The Hagamans’ lawyer Richard Fowler QC said…

…Little’s comments went beyond a neutral position that the issue required investigation, as his use of the phrases “stinks to high heaven”, “murky” and “dodgy deals” showed.

“As has been said before, what’s the worst possible thing for a businessman? Pretty hard to think of what’s worse once you go to the c-word – corruption.”

While the Hagamans accepted Little had to hold the Government to account as leader of the opposition, “that does not entitle you to go off and defame innocent people”.

“If they were collateral damage, if that’s what it was…that still doesn’t change anything in terms  of fundamental liability.”

He had failed to undertake any significant investigation into the issue or speak to Scenic Hotel Group before commenting, and had employed “very loose facts”.

“There is more than a whiff in the evidence of Mr Little going about what he was doing on the basis he didn’t particularly care because of course the person at the other end of this corruption continuum if you like…was in fact a National Party donor.”

“Hanging the Hagamans out to dry was unfair, cruel and cynical.”

He questioned why, if Little did not believe his comments were defamatory, he had apologised and made an offer of $100,000.

Little’s late efforts to extract himself from a tricky situation may not have been a helpful move.

His slowness and apparent difficulty in making a comprehensive apology could also be a problem – he still hasn’t given a “sorry I got it wrong” apology.

Both lawyers mentioned Earl Hagaman’s poor health (he is dying) but that shouldn’t affect legal arguments.

From what I can see this mostly comes down to two things:

  • The responsibility of the Leader of the Opposition to hold the Government to account.
  • The responsibility of politicians to make sure they have solid grounds for making serious accusations against the Government and by association if not directly against private citizens and companies.

The judge will have more to say about what the case hinges on. Then it will be up to the jury.

37 Comments

  1. David

     /  April 7, 2017

    Little is a reckless fool and a bully, this is his 3rd time he has had legal issues with just spraying sh.. and because the recipient doesnt share his political stance they are fair game, even when not involved with politics. Horrid man.

    • Blazer

       /  April 7, 2017

      if you donate $100,000 to the National Party ,I think its safe to say …you are involved with…politics.Why do you suppose someone would donate such a sum….expect a ..return?

      • Gezza

         /  April 7, 2017

        Well it’s possible that they may just be wealthy & benefitting more under a National-led government than they think they would under one led by any other parties so they gave money to help fund slick advertising & various other party-machine-functioning things the Nats might find useful in campaigning to get re-elected as the government. Rich people do that sort of thing. Owen Glen did this too I recall. But he donated to Labour. I don’t think he’s still donating to Labour, but I could be wrong, I haven’t googled that. Not really that interested in that at the moment.

    • Kevin

       /  April 7, 2017

      There is no doubt Little acted recklessly. There may have been facts that Little based his opinion on, but that opinion still has to pass the reasonable person test. That is was Little’s opinion something that a reasonable person could derived from the same facts?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 7, 2017

        People DO make donations to political parties, Blazer, odd as that may seem to you. I have, and done it without expecting anything in return-which may also seem odd to you. I know people who have given very generous donations to the party and neither received nor expected anything to come of it as far as personal gain went. Yes, some of us are capable of giving gifts with no strings attached.

        I would say that AL’s remarks meant that there was corruption involved, what other interpretation could there be ?

  2. I don’t know why they presume a result today. Perhaps they think the outcome is obvious.

    I haven’t heard all the court arguments, and no one has heard the judge summing up, so I have no idea how it may go.

    When did someone last use the qualified privilege defence in a defamation trial?

    • Kevin

       /  April 7, 2017

      “When did someone last use the qualified privilege defence in a defamation trial?”

      From what I’ve read qualified privilege is only available to politicians, public figures, journalists and the like so possibly used in a defamation case involving a politician.

      • So there may not be many precedents, especially over the last few decades.

        • Kevin

           /  April 7, 2017

          Possibly but haven’t looked at it in depth. From what little I know the defence was created to protect journalists but don’t quote me on that.

          Here’s some quick info from wikipedia:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualified_privilege

          The defense of qualified privilege permits persons in positions of authority or trust to make statements or relay or report statements that would be considered slander and libel if made by anyone else. In New Zealand and Ontario, for instance, cases of political libel are inhibited by permitting open discussion of an allegation or rumor, if conducted responsibly and with due care for the privacy of the person whose reputation would be affected. This privilege generally doesn’t extend to repetition of discredited statements, malice, or comments made out of process or out of order in the organization or institution in which the position of authority is held.

          The defense has become very important in the UK, especially after a case involving allegations made by the Sunday Times against the Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. During that case the judge outlined a ten-point test of ‘responsible journalism’. If reporters and editors followed these points, the judge said, they would enjoy a degree of protection from libel action, even if they could not prove factual allegations.

          To qualify for this defense, a report must be one of a public meeting/press conference that’s:

          Fair
          Accurate
          Published without malice
          Subject to the right of reply in the form of a letter that gives explanation or contradiction
          It need not be contemporaneous (depending on publication), where it has to be for absolute privilege

          So yeah, good luck to Andy with regards to qualified privilege – he’l need all the luck he can get with that one.

  3. Blazer

     /  April 7, 2017

    Little has a good defence with ..qualified privelege…just present to the jury of what a reasonable person would think someone would donate 100k for!

    • Kevin

       /  April 7, 2017

      That’s not qualified privilege. That’s just saying that your opinion was a reasonable one based on the facts. Personally I think he has much better hope of succeeding on that one than qualified privilege – although I think he has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding on either.

      • Blazer

         /  April 7, 2017

        on the criteria you list,it..qualifies.

      • Blazer

         /  April 7, 2017

        ‘Justice Karen Clark said to the jury: “…As Lani Hagaman had not been named by Little in any of his comments, the jury had to decide whether an ordinary, fair-minded reader would identify her as being criticised.

        Clark said she had ruled that Little’s comments were protected by qualified privilege as he had a duty, “whether legal or social or moral”, to comment.

        However, that defence could be “defeated or effectively negated” if the jury found his comments were predominantly motivated by ill will targeted directly at the Hagamans, or if he had taken improper advantage of the occasion….”

    • Gezza

       /  April 7, 2017

      We’ll see. Personally I just hope the jury’s verdict doesn’t stink to high heaven.

      • Nelly Smickers

         /  April 7, 2017

        Interesting to see Blazer also agrees with an *idiot savant* like Wayne….huh Geez? XD

        • Gezza

           /  April 7, 2017

          That one might be lucky to survive a cull. 😳

  4. John Schmidt

     /  April 7, 2017

    The premise is all ways the same by Little and the left that those in our society who are sucessful and in the process have become wealthy must be corrupt, have no integrity and therefore their success makes them bastards. This basic assumption shows how ignorant they are about business where integrity and honesty is everything becauae noone wants to deal with a person who does not have these qualities.
    Succesful people are those who at one point in their life gambled it all followed up with hours and hours of effort way beyond the union mandated 8 hour day.
    Succesful people are also the employers without their success there is no employment.
    There are some in our society who say and their some who do. Its much harder being the doer than the talker.

    • Nelly Smickers

       /  April 7, 2017

      Wayne reckons the Hagaman’s should have gone for a *Judge alone* Trial. He remembers getting called for jury duty once…. and was so relieved to have been challenged.

      As Wayne said, “Why would *anybody* want to be locked up in a small room for a week with a bunch of smelly losers ❓ “

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 7, 2017

        That’s no doubt one of the reasons why he was challenged. Nobody else did want this.

        • Nelly Smickers

           /  April 7, 2017

          Yes…well as usual Catkin, you *know nothing* of which you speak. The *only reason* Wayne was challenged, was because they found out he had once appeared as a Character Witness for the defendant in a previous trial.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  April 7, 2017

            Wayne asked for it, and I like to give people what they ask for.

            • Nelly Smickers

               /  April 7, 2017

              [Deleted]

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 7, 2017

              If you usually do this, I suppose so, but that’s between the two of you and nothing to do with me.

    • Blazer

       /  April 10, 2017

      ‘This basic assumption shows how ignorant they are about business where integrity and honesty is everything because no one wants to deal with a person who does not have these qualities.’….plenty of examples around of extremely wealthy people lacking,integrity,ethics,honesty.Heres a recent example and a Knight ..to boot!

      http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/how-sir-philip-green-outraged-an-entire-nation

  5. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  April 7, 2017

    Jury has retired for the weekend.
    6 and half hours deliberation today.

    • Gezza

       /  April 7, 2017

      Damn. 😕 My bet with my good friend blazer was a decision in three hours max. I hope it’s not a stinky decision in the end. I imagine there were quite a few jury challenges based on occupation.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 7, 2017

        The news made it sound as if the decision had been made-no doubt to make us watch the whole thing and not just turn off after the headlines.

        • Gezza

           /  April 7, 2017

          Did they show Andy? Was he doing the thumbs up?

          If it was NewShub I don’t watch that because its rubbish. I’ll see what’s on 1Ewes about it on Freeview’s Plus 1 channel 6 at 7pm if I can stay awake through it, because that’s just a teeny bit slightly better quality rubbish & the studio is nicer & the presenters & reporters are better dressed, except for Katie’s jacket tops. But they usually only show Andy looking silly or sad so if he did a thumbs up they may not show that.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  April 7, 2017

            No, he was under an umbrella and looked a bit grim. NewShub has less sports news, which is why I watch it-and I can’t stand the Wun weather man.

          • Gezza

             /  April 7, 2017

            Oh yes, that’s true. Half of it is usually sport and weather. Dan really should probably have been a dancer.

  6. patupaiarehe

     /  April 7, 2017

    I’m picking that he will be found not guilty. Anyone up for a wager???

    • Anonymous Coward

       /  April 7, 2017

      My call the other day was that IF he is found guilty the award will be the $26 000 they turned down first. That said I think he’ll win too.

    • No gambling here.

      Little has already offered part compensation and part apologies so he seems to have conceded. He just wanted to minimise the financial damages.

      Whatever the outcome he is severely damaged politically.

      • patupaiarehe

         /  April 7, 2017

        Not necessarily (well not any more than he was anyway 😀 )
        It did look dodgy to me, and I suspect the jury will agree.

        • Brown

           /  April 8, 2017

          Saying this will damage Little politically when he’s mired in the doldrums because he has nothing to offer is like saying a dog turd is damaged because someone walked in it. Both may look different after the event but as no-one wanted to go near them before the event before and after considerations are irrelevant. You just wipe your shoe and get on with things.

  7. Gezza

     /  April 10, 2017

    The jury in Labour leader Andrew Little’s defamation trial has indicated it cannot reach a unanimous verdict – but will continue attempts to reach a majority decision.

    After more than 12 hours of discussions across Friday and Monday, the jury foreperson said the 12 members could not reach agreement on the first question of a four-step process in whether Little defamed Scenic Hotel Group founder Earl Hagaman or his wife Lani.

    However, the foreperson said the jury believed it could reach a majority verdict – where at least nine people agree – for some of the allegedly defamatory statements, as is allowed in civil cases.

    Justice Karen Clark instructed the jury to carry deliberating on the instances where they could reach a majority verdict until such a point as they were no longer able to agree by a majority. 

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/91390066/jury-deliberations-to-resume-in-labour-leader-andrew-littles-defamation-trial