Williams v Craig – costs judged excessive, may be new trial

After the jury awarded record costs against Colin Craig in the defamation case taken against him by Jordan Williams Judge J Katz deferred entering judgment on request of Craig’s counsel.

She has now released her judgment – she has ruled that the costs and damages awarded were “well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case” (they were easily a record) so the defamation could go to a new trial.

[105] Viewed objectively, Mr Craig’s statements cannot be said to have been markedly worse than the statements made in all of the previous defamation cases that have come before the Courts in New Zealand. Yet the damages awarded in this case are significantly higher than any previous award.

[109] Taking all of these matters into account, I am satisfied that the damages award is well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case. The consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. The jury’s verdicts must therefore be set aside and a retrial ordered, unless both parties are willing to consent to my substituting a new damages award in place of the jury’s award. It is not possible to have a new trial solely on the issue of damages, as any assessment of damages must necessarily be based on the jury’s overall factual findings.

[110] In relation to Mr Craig’s second ground of challenge to the jury’s verdicts, I reject the submission that there was no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support the jury’s finding that he had lost his qualified privilege.

Result

[112] The parties are to file memoranda by 3.00 pm on Wednesday 26 April 2017 advising whether they consent to the Court substituting its own award of damages for the jury’s award, pursuant to s 33 of the Act. If confirmation is not received by that date that both parties consent to such a course, then I order that the jury’s verdicts be set aside and the proceedings be set down for a re-trial on the first available date that is convenient to senior counsel.

http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/williams-v-craig/@@images/fileDecision

There are interesting points and explanations made in Judge Katz’s judgment regarding qualified privilege.

Whale is prudently not commenting much at this stage due to a pending trial of Craig v Cameron Slater – Williams v Craig developments

I realise this is of supreme interest to all of us, but as we are only weeks away from the Craig v Slater defamation trial in Auckland, we will not comment, and to keep things safe, we ask you not to comment and speculate on this blog.   We are not bystanders able to comment freely, and therefore we also can not provide you with a platform to do so.

Judge Katz’s ruling will be very pertinent to this trial.

Stuff: High Court throws out Colin Craig $1.27m damages order

In a just-released judgment Justice Katz said a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and that jurors appeared to have failed to follow her directions.

“I am satisfied that the damages award is well outside the range that could reasonably have been given in all the circumstances of the case,” she said.

NZ Herald coverage: Verdict may be set aside in Colin Craig v Jordan Williams defamation case

The judge presiding over the Colin Craig defamation case says a “miscarriage of justice has occurred”.

Justice Sarah Katz said in a decision released today that damages awarded against former Conservative Party leader Craig were “well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case”.

In an emailed statement, Jordan Williams said: “The judge has offered the choice of her resetting the damages, having another jury trial, or we can go to the Court of Appeal. Over the coming days, my lawyers and I will be making those decisions.”

Craig told the Herald this afternoon that Justice Katz had “got it right”.

“It clearly was a mistrial and a retrial is the next step.”

 

22 Comments

  1. Tipene

     /  April 12, 2017

    Have just read the entire judgment.

    What struck me in the summary was the amount of lies Jordan Williams and John Stringer told the Court – their combined deception was blatant, and horrifying.

    [Deleted through caution. PG]

    Based on the judgment I have just read – Slater et al are dog tucker in a few weeks time.

    Reason 349 why Defamation trials need to be Judge-alone, not jury trials.

    • Tipene

       /  April 12, 2017

      Fair call, Pete.

    • Bill Brown

       /  April 12, 2017

      Thanks [deleted – use people’s pseudonyms. PG]

    • “Blatant and horrifying”. That’s highly emotive language Tipene. As for the “lies”. Can you be specific. You’re doing well to have read the entire judgement and made such a definitive judgement.

  2. Gezza

     /  April 12, 2017

    Katz, J :
    The jury’s verdicts must therefore be set aside and a retrial ordered, unless both parties are willing to consent to my substituting a new damages award in place of the jury’s award.
    I think this is a very wise suggestion tbh. Especially if Her Honour is a mum. Personally I think they should bo go with it. Those boys really need a sensible mum to get involved in this.

    • Gezza

       /  April 12, 2017

      soz * bo = both.

    • Tipene

       /  April 12, 2017

      @ Gezza: Let’s hope the new trial (if there is one) is Judge-alone, whereby a suitably qualified and experienced expert can distinguish context, alongside qualified privilege, alongside threshold.

      • As well as there being complex and untested legal issues in qualified privilege and defamation, a jury trial has the added complication of overlapping responsibilities of the judge (deciding on law) and jury (deciding on facts).

      • Gezza

         /  April 12, 2017

        Yes, if there is a new trial. Although the Law Commission was reluctant to go down that path when they looked at it a few years ago I think. You know what I honestly think though? Both of them have made each other look like idiots who need to grow up.

    • Bill Brown

       /  April 12, 2017

      Katz J is a very good Judge. She’s experienced and fair. I argued as a lay litigant in front of her and she kept senior counsel under control- she was engaging and I was impressed by her

      • Tipene

         /  April 12, 2017

        @ Bill Brown: How did you get on?

        • Bill Brown

           /  April 12, 2017

          She allowed my new evidence to be adduced and I went on to win the case

  3. Tipene

     /  April 12, 2017

    @traveller: http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/williams-v-craig/@@images/fileDecision

    Clauses 13, 53, 54, 55, 56 to start.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 12, 2017

    Presumably Williams could appeal this move by the judge?

  5. Tipene

     /  April 12, 2017

    From Newshub:

    “The judgment has accurately summarised that Mr Williams attacked me and that I was entitled to respond,” Mr Craig said today.

    “It has also accurately identified that Mr Jordan Williams made claims to other people that were simply not factually true”.

    Earlier this year Mr Craig succeeded in his defamation case against Mr John Stringer and his case against Cameron Slater starts next month in the Auckland High Court.

    http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2017/04/craig-defamation-trial-overturned-due-to-miscarriage-of-justice.html

    So it’s currently:

    Craig v Stringer = win to Craig

    Craig v Williams on Appeal = win to Craig

    Craig v Slater = not looking promising for Slater

    • Craig v Williams was still a win for Williams at trial, and if a new jury decides the same as the last one it will only be a reduction in costs.

      If there’s a new trial both sides will have learnt from the last one so it’s hard to predict how it will go.

      Same applies to Craig v Slater – both sides will be getting good pointers from this latest judgment. But Slater’s optimism over the chances of getting a similar payout to Williams will need reassessing substantially.

      One thing Katz J pointed out that if Craig’s hitting back in response to an attack is found again to be excessive the fact that he was attacked first ()over a period of time) should reduce the damages that should be awarded.

      And the record award against Siemer was referred to as the worst defamation in the commonwealth, so the indicated target most be a decent dollop less than that.

      • Tipene

         /  April 12, 2017

        Yes, Vince Seimer completely and utterly lost the plot with Stiassny – and eventually, with the entire legal profession. Two stints in jail could not dissuade him, nor being extradited back to NZ from the US to face trial.

        In other words, the Seimer judgement was in its own constellation in terms of behaviour and damages, bears no resemblance to Craig v Williams whatsoever, and Katz J affirms this in her Judgment.

        Craig v Williams was not a win for Williams at trial, as the Judge did not enter a decision at trial.

        All Williams “won” at the time was some temporary reprieve from thinking about how he is going to pay his estimated $1 million-plus legal fees, when there isn’t a practice in the country that would now hire him as a Lawyer.

        Bankruptcy, anyone?

        • Costs are yet to be dealt with for last year’s trial.

          It’s still quite possible that Williams will get another favourable jury verdict and if that happens along with realistic damages then Williams could still come out of it ok.

          It’s impossible to predict what will happen.

  6. Tipene

     /  April 12, 2017

    @ Alan Wilkinson – I think (open to correction, however) that both parties now decide on which direction they both want to go in, then act on that decision, and then whatever the outcome, respond to same from the options subsequently available to them (which may or may not be an appeal).

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