Craig representing himself

Graeme Edgeler linked to an interesting pre-trial judgment (4 May 2017) in the Craig v Slater defamation. It explains that while Craig is representing himself he has legal advice on hand. It also explains some other aspects of the case.

[1] Mr Colin Craig is the plaintiff and counterclaim defendant in defamation proceedings initiated by him against the first and second defendants. Mr Craig’s
claims and the counterclaim by Mr Slater are set down for a three-week trial before
me, sitting without a jury, commencing on 8 May 2017.

[2] This judgment concerns an application by Mr Craig for permission to be assisted in Court by a McKenzie friend; that is, a support person who may attend as a friend  and sit beside an unrepresented party to civil litigation to provide support, take notes, make suggestions and give advice. A McKenzie friend does not have the right to take part in the proceedings as an advocate, although the Court has a discretion to allow the friend to play a greater role, such as speaking for the party, if that is thought appropriate. That discretion is exercised sparingly.

[3] The unusual feature of this case is that the McKenzie friend from whom Mr Craig wishes to obtain assistance throughout the trial of the proceeding is a practising barrister, Mr Thomas Cleary.

[4] Although the defendants do not object in principle to the appointment of a
McKenzie friend for Mr Craig, they oppose the granting of permission for Mr Cleary
to act in that capacity.

[5] After hearing from Mr Craig and from Ms Foster on behalf of the defendants,
I granted Mr Craig permission to use Mr Cleary in court as a McKenzie friend.

It also explains why the judge had previously granted an application by Craig to have the trial hear by a judge alone rather than a jury due to complex legal arguments around qualified privilege.

Some background:

[7] To explain the nature of the proceeding, I adopt the following summary from
a judgment dated 12 April 2017, in which I granted an application by Mr Craig for
an order under s 19A(5) of the Judicature Act 1908 that the case be tried before a
judge without a jury:

[2] During the 2014 general election campaign, Mr Craig was leader of the Conservative Party and a parliamentary candidate. Shortly before the election, his press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, resigned. Ms MacGregor subsequently made a complaint that she had been sexually harassed by Mr Craig. Sexual harassment proceedings before the Human Rights Review Tribunal between Ms MacGregor and Mr Craig were settled in May 2015. As a result of public  controversy about Mr Craig’s relationship with Ms MacGregor and the reasons  for her resignation, members of the board of the Conservative Party raised questions about Mr Craig’s continued leadership of the party. In June 2015, Mr Craig resigned as leader. He made public statements about the matter, including at press conferences on 22 June 2015 and 29 July 2015 and in a booklet which was distributed to members of the public. The publications contained allegations about Mr Slater’s and Whale Oil’s involvement in a campaign to force Mr Craig’s resignation as party leader. In June and July 2015, Mr Slater made numerous statements on radio and television, and in blog posts on the Whale Oil blogsite, about Mr Craig’s relationship with Ms McGregor; the settlement of the sexual harassment proceedings; Mr Craig’s resignation and related matters.

[3] The proceeding concerns allegedly defamatory statements published by Mr Slater and [the second defendant] about Mr Craig, and by Mr Craig about Mr Slater. In defence of Mr Craig’s claims, Mr Slater and [the second defendant] plead denials of allegedly defamatory meanings and the affirmative defences of truth, honest opinion and qualified privilege. Mr Craig pleads similar defences in response to the counterclaim.

The judge is not surprisingly referring to Williams v Craig where the decision was set aside by Judge Katz.

[8] In ordering that the case be tried before a judge without a jury, I held that the
defences of qualified privilege which are advanced in the case “will involve mainly
the consideration of difficult questions of law”, particularly relating to the
respective functions of judge and jury in addressing the defence. I relied, in part, on
observations to the same effect by Katz J in an interlocutory judgment in the separate but related case of Williams v Craig, a proceeding issued in the Auckland Registry of the Court under CIV-2015-404-1845, in which Mr Craig is sued by a Mr Jordan Williams, a former Conservative Party colleague of Mr Craig.

The relevance of two other proceedings:

[10] It is relevant to the present application that there are at least two other
defamation proceedings arising from events related to the matters referred to above
at. One is Williams v Craig, the trial of which resulted in a jury awarding Mr Williams a total of $1.27 million in damages, said by the trial Judge to be the highest sum of damages ever awarded for defamation in New Zealand by a significant margin.

[11] The other related proceeding is Craig v Stringer, issued in the Christchurch
Registry of the Court under CIV-2015-409-575, in which Mr Craig sued a former
member of the Board of the Conservative Party, Mr John Stringer…The case, however, settled before trial.

Full judgement:



  1. Brown

     /  May 18, 2017

    I hate the term ‘representing himself ‘. It supports the view that the court perceives us as legal fictions rather than men and women, natural persons and so on. Craig should have appeared on a sui juris basis. In this instance where a common law tort is alleged it would make no real difference but it would have been nice to watch the court’s reaction.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 18, 2017

      Youi may hate the expression, but it simply means acting as one’s own lawyer. How anyone can think that it means what you have read into it is beyond me.

      I imagine that the court’s reaction would have been nil, as everyone there would be fully familiar with this expression and know what it means. It’s hardly likely to be a novelty to anyone who works in the field of law.

      • Brown

         /  May 18, 2017

        Its not that simple. Try it and see what reaction you get when its a matter of a legislative breach rather than a tort.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  May 18, 2017

          Probably the old one about people who are their own lawyers having fools for clients…