The judge summed up in the defamation trial this morning and the jury retired to consider the fate of Andrew Little.
Late this afternoon the jury were excused for the weekend and will return on Monday to continue. It will be an anxious weekend for Little.
The judge said that Little was able to claim qualified privilege as Leader of the Opposition so the Hagamans had to prove that what Little said was bad enough to strip away that protection if Little had lowered their reputation in the eyes of right-thinking people”, on the balance of probabilities (a lower hurdle than ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ of criminal trials).
ODT (NZME): Little to wait for trial verdict
Labour leader Andrew Little will spend the weekend in limbo on the verdict of his defamation trial – the jury was still deliberating and will meet again on Monday to continue.
After a five day trial, the jury was sent out on Friday morning to decide whether Little had defamed hoteliers Earl and Lani Hagaman for comments he made about a $100,000 donation to the National Party a month before their Scenic Hotel Group secured a management contract over a hotel in Niue.
The jurors returned to the courtroom twice to ask questions during about five hours of deliberations.
In summing up…
… Justice Karen Clark told the jury to put aside any sympathies they might feel for any of those concerned or any political views they might have.
She said if the jury decided damages were required, they should assess what was “fair and reasonable” for both the Hagamans and Little but did not need to consider what was affordable for Little.
She said they should not try to compare the case with other damages awards in defamation cases.
Earlier from Stuff:
The onus was on the Hagamans to prove that Little’s comments had the meaning they claimed and that they were defamatory.
However, the Hagamans were only required to prove their case on the balance of probabilities, not beyond reasonable doubt as in a criminal case.
The “crucial first step” to identify the meanings of Little’s words, as ordinary, reasonable person would understand them.
If they agreed with the Hagamans’ interpretation of the phrases, they then had to decide whether they were defamatory and had lowered their reputation in the eyes of right-thinking people.
Lani Hagaman had not been named by Little in any of his comments so…
… the jury had to decide whether an ordinary, fair-minded reader would identify her as being criticised.
Earl Hagaman and their company Scenic Circle were named.
On qualified privilege:
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 his privilege.
…Clark said they were about vindicating the plaintiff to the public and providing some compensation for wrongdoing.
Defamation cases like this were relatively rare in New Zealand, and had to be considered on the specific facts. Damages awarded in other trials provided “no reliable guideline or benchmark” to the jury, she said.
Instead, jurors had to use common sense and good judgement when setting a figure, ensuring it was fair and appropriate.
Exemplary, or punitive, damages could only be awarded if Little had acted “in flagrant disregard” to the rights of the Hagamans.
It was important that the jury “not get carried away” in terms of any sum, while they should avoid “doubling up” with general damages and exemplary damages.
She encouraged the jury to reach a unanimous verdict but in some circumstances a majority verdict would suffice if at least 9 jurors agreed.