Williams versus Craig: will there be an apology?

Jordan Williams has sort of won the latest round in the defamation proceedings he brought against Colin Craig, but it’s hard to are any either his or Craig’s reputation or bank balance coming out of this in the positive.

Williams was originally awarded about $1.2 million in ordinary and punitive damages by a jury, but the judge set that aside, saying it was an excessive award and it should go back to trial. Williams appealed that and won – it won’t go back to trial to determine defamation, that stands, but it will go back to trial or the judge to determine an appropriate award. Craig cross appealed and lost.

A key question in the original trial was whether Craig’s reaction to attacks and provocation from Williams was justified or over the top. The jury ruled it was excessive and that stands, but the Court of Appeal ruled they didn’t take the behaviour and reputation of Williams into account when awarding damages.

Judgment of the Court

A The appeal is allowed in part. The order made in the High Court for retrial of the appellant’s claims for liability and damages is set aside.

B Judgment is entered for the appellant in accordance with the jury’s verdict on liability. An order is made directing a retrial of the appellant’s claim for damages.

C In all other respects the appeal and cross appeal are dismissed.

D The respondent is ordered to pay the appellant 50 per cent of costs as calculated for a standard appeal on a band A basis with usual disbursements. There is no order for costs on the cross-appeal. All costs issues arising in the High Court are to be determined in that Court in accordance with this judgment.

However they also ruled that it was appropriate to set a limit on the level of damages.

[58] Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award. His claim was pitched at a plainly extravagant level. There was no request for a direction about the appropriate parameters of an award. In this case an appropriate direction would have been up to $250,000 for compensatory damages
including aggravation, and for punitive damages no more than $10,000.

[78] It will be for the retrial Judge to decide procedure for a damages claim.

(b) Mr Williams is entitled to a compensatory award, which should be anywhere up to a maximum of $250,000 for damage to his reputation, including aggravating factors…

(c) an award of punitive damages was also available but should not be more than $10,000.

So a maximum of $260,000 recommended, about a million dollars less than the original award.

A lack of an apology from Craig was a factor, and remains a factor.

[41] The circumstances of this case are much less serious than those of Siemer v Stiassny and Holloway. We acknowledge the jury’s finding that Mr Craig’s statements about Mr Williams were false and defamatory and would tend to lower his standing in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. Its verdicts must be respected. We acknowledge also the gravity of Mr Craig’s attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, the nationwide and repetitive circulation of Mr Craig’s defamatory comments, Mr Craig’s persistence with his defence of truth and attack on Mr Williams’ reputation, and Mr Craig’s refusal to apologise. However, some perspective is necessary. We refer to two particular contextual factors.

[42] First, Mr Williams cannot point to any special harm. He is not a public figure. He is the leader of a little-known political group. Nor was he defamed in performing his professional duties as a lawyer. He was defamed in response to his actions taken with the aim of removing Mr Craig from his office as leader of a small political party. Whether Mr Williams’ objective was purely personal or linked to his role as a lobbyist for fiscal conservatism is of no real moment. His tactics — such as private messaging and the use of a pseudonym — were covert so as to keep himself out of the public eye.

[43] The trial process revealed that Mr Williams had accused Mr Craig of sexual harassment against Ms MacGregor but himself harboured offensive attitudes towards women. Mr Williams’ Facebook exchanges with Mr Slater, on which he was recalled for cross-examination at trial, were sexually crude and disparaging of women, particularly those of a different political leaning. In a written apology, which he read aloud at trial, Mr Williams accepted that his messages portrayed him in a poor light. It may fairly be observed that the trial process exposed serious flaws in the characters of both protagonists.

[79] …The trial Judge will provide extracts from the evidential transcript. Mr Craig may also wish to mitigate damages by tendering an unequivocal apology to Mr Williams.

This suggests that if Craig tenders “an unequivocal apology” the damages will be mitigated – that must mean reduced.

I don’t know if Craig will be prepared to apologise, but if he does, properly, the award should shrink further.

This has been a very costly trial, both monetary and to both reputations.

Williams was awarded just 50% of the costs of his appeal, and none of the costs for the cross appeal.

On a retrial on damages he may also be awarded costs, but that may not be all of the costs there, and I don’t know how the costs of the original trial will be determined, if at all. It’s hard to see Williams being awarded all costs given the Court of Appeal stated “Mr Williams must take primary responsibility for the jury’s delivery of an unsustainable award”.

In one respect Williams has won – the defamation decided by the jury stands. But he has not helped his own reputation with the trial, and he may not come out of this very well financially either. It could end up being a win-lose outcome for him.

It’s just a lose-lose situation for Craig. He was understandably at the attacks on him and the fairly clear attempts to destroy his political career and his Conservative party, but he over-reacted in response, using the power of his money excessively. That has cost him a lot. If he apologises it will cost him a little less perhaps.

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  1. PDB

     /  March 6, 2018

    Where is our resident Colin Craig supporter when you need them? Not another outstanding success for Craig in court then?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 6, 2018

      Musical courts rather than musical chairs.

      He should just let it go. He’s looking obsessive and I wonder how many people’s first reaction is ‘Not again….yawn, yawn.’

    • Blazer

       /  March 11, 2018

      Colin Craig is a right wing Conservative.When they fall out of favour the right ex communicate them as if they…never..existed.

      • PDB

         /  March 11, 2018

        Wasn’t too many ‘right-wingers’ here supporting Colin Craig from memory.

  2. Bill Brown

     /  March 11, 2018

    Neither of them have a particularly good reputation. One could see Slater coming out on top V Craig now with this judgement. But how much money will they all get? Very little I would say. Obviously Toogood J has been sitting and waiting for this judgement first before he releases his one. No doubt to make it unappealable. Blomfield should be watching all this very closely as the wording around having a reputation will be crucial to his case going ahead any further. [I need comments like that backed up by facts – PG] it’s hard to see him proving much in court.

    Interesting times for the defamed.

    • The latest from Decisions Online:

      [30] Mr Slater referred me to a wealth of information to suggest that Mr Blomfield may not have had any relevant business reputation at the time the articles were published on the Whaleoil site. He submitted that the Court’s resources should not be deployed to deal with such an undeserving claim for defamation.

      [31] I do not accept that this proceeding is of such a character as to justify invocation of the Jameel approach. A number of the allegations made against Mr Blomfield go beyond his business activities and/or practices; in particular, the suggestions that he might be [redacted]. In my view, while there may be a question about the value of his claims based on business reputation, the same cannot be said about those other aspects of the claim.

      [32] In those circumstances, the better course is to ensure the proceeding is readied for trial promptly. Mr Slater’s application to strike out is dismissed.


      • Bill Brown

         /  March 11, 2018

        Break out the pop corn. The High Court will just be the first action – albeit 5 years in the making. No doubt the loser will Appeal so we’ve got years to go

        And all the while both sides will have laundry aired that will forever taint.

        It’s all rather amusing – Colin Craig looks like such an idiot for continuing this on. I suspect Blomfield will end up the same.

      • phantom snowflake

         /  March 11, 2018

        Thanks Pete, I appreciate these updates. Is there anything more you are able to share with us about the dramas involving LF?

        • Bill Brown

           /  March 11, 2018

          They have not done a story in like forever. I’d say they don’t bother to much any more. Shame really as some of the stories they wrote were pretty good. But some a tad childish – although taken as a bit of sledging

        • They have fizzled out under pressure.

          I had another legal win this week that may or may not be the end that road, but at this stage there is still little I can say publicly until another legal matter not involving me is resolved.

      • Thanks. I wasn’t aware of that. But as that is after the Blomfield v Slater defamation dispute it shouldn’t be relevant,

        • Bill Brown

           /  March 11, 2018

          Agree not relevant but shows the way he operates seems to have not changed

          The case is now so old and boring it’s pretty much irrelevant

          Best thing is a full trial


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