Human Rights Tribunal slams Cameron Slater

In what has been reported as a landmark decision he Human Rights Review Tribunal has found that Cameron Slater breached the privacy of Matthew Blomfield by obtaining and publishing Blomfield’s personal information in a series of posts at Whale Oil, cherry picking and embellishing data from a hard drive that the Court found that had been obtained illegally and given to Slater.

The tribunal found that Slater’s posts about Blomfield had caused genuine harm and humiliation through an interference in his privacy:

This blog can only be described as a calculated attack on Mr Blomfield and an extended assassination of his character.”

Even if Mr Slater was not party to any illegality, it seems likely the information was obtained illegally by Mr Slater’s sources.

In October last year Slater lost a five year defamation case brought against him by Blomfield. Damages and costs haven’t been awarded yet, but last month Slater filed for bankruptcy.

Slater’s defence in the Humaan Rights case was that he had been acting as a journalist so had legal protection (similar to his defamation defence), but the decision states that the attacks were sustained over six months and were extreme, well beyond the responsibilities of journalism.

Note the date of the hearings (over four years ago), and the date of the decision (yesterday).

Also note the name of Slater’s assistant. Nottingham and Slater have records of over the top attack blogging, and hopeless legal attacks and defences. They are both now bankrupt, and both suffer from health problems. Slater has been distanced and dumped from Whale Oil, and Nottingham is banned from using the Internet.

[171] On the facts there can be little doubt the humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings described by Mr Blomfield were caused by Mr Slater. In legal terminology we are satisfied Mr Slater’s disclosure of Mr Blomfield’s personal information was a material cause of the harm suffered by Mr Blomfield. See Taylor v Orcon [2015] NZHRRT 15, (2015) 10 HRNZ 458 at [59] to [61].

[174] We do not propose making a training order. The events in question occurred some time ago and much has happened since then, particularly extensive litigation between Mr Slater and Mr Blomfield. We are confident that upon publication of the present decision Mr Slater will appreciate that the news medium exemption from the Privacy Act is but a limited exemption. Whether a blogger is exempt from application of the information privacy principles is a question to be determined blog by blog, item of personal information by item of personal information. Only if the particular item of personal information comes within the definition of news activity is exemption from the Privacy Act triggered in relation to that particular item.

[175.1] A declaration is made under s 85(1)(a) of the Privacy Act 1993 that Mr Slater interfered with the privacy of Mr Blomfield by disclosing personal information about Mr Blomfield contrary to IPP 11.

[175.2] An order is made under s 85(1)(b) of the Privacy Act 1993 restraining Mr Slater from continuing or repeating the interferences with Mr Blomfield’s privacy, or from engaging in, or causing or permitting others to engage in, conduct of the same kind as that constituting the interferences, or conduct of any similar kind.

[175.3] An order is made under s 85(1)(d) of the Privacy Act 1993 that Mr Slater erase, destroy, take down and disable any personal information about Mr Matthew John Blomfield as may be held on http://www.whaleoil.co.nz and on http://www.scribd.com. Mr Slater is to likewise erase, destroy, take down or disable any of Mr Blomfield’s personal information published by Mr Slater and which may be found on any other website or database which is within Mr Slater’s direction or control.

[175.4] Damages of $70,000 are awarded against Mr Slater under ss 85(1)(c) and 88(1)(c) of the Privacy Act 1993 for the humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings experienced by Mr Blomfield.

A media release from Blomfield:

Human Rights Review Tribunal orders Cameron Slater to pay damages

The Human Rights Review Tribunal has today upheld a complaint against Cameron Slater. The Tribunal found that Slater had breached the privacy of Matthew Blomfield by obtaining and publishing Mr Blomfield’s personal information.

The Tribunal ordered Slater to pay $70,000 in damages for the “humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings experienced by Mr Blomfield”. That is one of the highest awards ever made by the HRRT. It also ordered Slater to destroy Mr Blomfield’s personal information and to cease publishing stories based on that information.

In reaching its decision, the Tribunal rejected an argument from Slater that he was protected by a privacy exemption for news media. The Tribunal accepted that the blog site Whale Oil could be a news medium. However, it found that all but one of the publications complained of could not properly be described as a news activity. Rather, they were “gratuitous allegations” as part of a “sustained campaign” against Mr Blomfield. The Tribunal described the blog as “a calculated attack on Mr Blomfield and an extended assassination of his character”.

While being elated at the result, Mr Blomfield was very disappointed that the decision had taken so long. “I feel like I have lived the maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied”” he said. The hearing of this complaint before the Tribunal occurred more than four years ago. A few weeks ago, Slater had himself declared bankrupt. Since the hearing, the private information has appeared on other blog sites including one run by the lay advocate who assisted Slater before the HRRT. “The Tribunal has sat on this case for so long that it will now be very difficult for me to enforce any of its orders” said Mr
Blomfield.

“Mr Slater’s actions have been an extended nightmare for me and my family. He has boasted online about having my family’s private information including the photos of my kids growing up and our family home movies. This has been especially traumatic for my children and my partner.” said Mr Blomfield. “Every allegation he made about me was a fabrication. As has become clear in the defamation case, there was simply no basis for the allegations, he just made them up.”

I think it’s unlikely to get a statement from Slater or Whale Oil.

The full judgment [2019] NZHRRT 13 is here.

David Fisher at NZ Herald:  Bankrupt blogger Cameron Slater carried out ‘character assassination’ – ordered to pay $70,000 in landmark media ruling

Bankrupt ex-blogger Cameron Slater has been found to have carried out an “extended assassination” on the character of a businessman in a series of blog posts he attempted to defend as journalism.

The Human Rights Tribunal has found his six-month campaign against businessman Matt Blomfield on his Whaleoil blog in 2012 wasn’t news and Slater did not have a journalist’s protection from prosecution under the Privacy Act.

It has ordered Slater pay Blomfield $70,000 in damages and never write about him again.

The ruling from the Tribunal also sets a new rules for how the Privacy Act applies to journalism, saying media are bound to act “responsibly” if it wants to be exempt from the law.

That is an important point for bloggers as well as journalists. I operate as a journalist of sorts here at times, but it’s pretty obvious that doesn’t give me a license to over the top run paid for attacks on people. This decision makes this clear in legal terms.

The basis of the claim was the blogger’s sourcing information from a hard drive he had obtained on which Blomfield had stored personal information over 10 years.

The case was taken up by the office of the Director of Human Rights Proceedings which prosecuted Slater for breaching the Privacy Act.

The tribunal’s finding, like a previous High Court judgment, raised concerns about the legality of Slater obtaining the hard drive containing Blomfield’s information.

The tribunal ordered Slater be declared as having breached Blomfield’s privacy and to be barred by restraining order from ever doing so again. It also ordered Slater destroy any personal information he held or had published about Blomfield.

It also delivered one of the tribunal’s highest awards for hurt and humiliation, ordering Slater pay Blomfield $70,000.

It is possible the award would outlast Slater’s bankruptcy with findings of damages being exempt from creditor settlements in some cases.

I don’t know how that might work.

Blomfield is likely to remain significantly out of pocket with his legal actions against Slater, but he has done many others who have been attacked and famed and had vexatious litigation against them a favour of sorts.

Slater reached great heights with his blogging at Whale Oil, but power and money seem to have driven him way over the top. This is just one of a number of court rulings that have resulted in him being discredited and facing huge legal costs and awards made against him.


An associate of Slater’s, Marc Spring, tried to continue attacks against Blomfield here at YourNZ when a court agreement prevented Whale Oil from being used for that purpose. Spring, Slateose failures: NOTTINGHAM v APN NEWS & MEDIA LTD [2018] NZHC 596 [29 March 2018] (the charges against me were withdrawn before trial).

On Monday I received an anonymous letter which included court judgments involving Blomfield. I was aware of these judgments already and had little interest in them, they are business/legal matters of little or no public interest.

The letter falsely accused me of supporting Blomfield in those matters – they have absolutely nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with them.

It also made a number of accusations against Blomfield that sound very similar to what Slater has just been slammed for by the Human Rights review Tribunal.

Whoever sent the letter must be nuts if they think I’m going to publish their anonymous unsubstantiated accusations.

Williams appealing defamation decision

Jordan Williams has announced he is going to appeal the judgment to set aside the jury decision in the defamation case Williams v Craig, saying he doesn’t want witnesses to have to go through a new trial and an appeal is “the best way forward”. His other option was to walk away with nothing but a huge legal bill.

In general for the public I think this is a good path to take, as the Court of Appeal will help clarify issues of defamation and of appropriate awards.

In September 2016 a jury awarded Williams a total of $1.27 million having found that he was defamed on two counts by Colin Craig.

On count one, the jury ordered $400,000 be paid in compensation caused for the injury to Williams’ reputation and feelings and $90,000 in punitive damages for Craig’s “flagrant disregard” of Jordan’s rights.

On count two, they ruled Craig pay $650,000 in compensation and $130,000 in punitive damages.

At the time Nick R (a lawyer) commented at Kiwiblog:

Court of Appeal can reduce any award of damages it considers to be manifestly excessive. It has done so before for jury awards in defamation cases. The CA has previously indicated that damages in defamation cases in NZ should be modest in the absence of evidence of actual pecuniary loss. That’s why I expect them to reduce this award, potentially by quite a lot.

Immediately following the verdicts Craig’s counsel requested that Judge Katz defer entering judgment as they intended applying to have the jury’s verdict set aside, so the judge deferred entering judgment.

Craig’s counsel subsequently applied to have the verdict set aside, and six months later, on 12 April 2017, Judge Katz delivered a judgment ruling that the damages awards were so high that they constituted a miscarriage of justice.

[109] …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.

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.

Craig immediately indicated he would not consent to the Court substituting it’s own award of damages, and it has now been confirmed that he has advised the court that he wouldn’t consent, and Williams put out a press release saying he didn’t want another trial, but would instead appeal Judge Katz’s judgment.

Statement from Jordan Williams

Lawyers for Jordan Williams are appealing the judgment setting aside last year’s jury verdict in the Williams v Craig defamation proceedings.

Mr Williams says, “Colin Craig argued that the jury’s damages award was too high. The judge agreed but the High Court is only able to reset the damages if both parties agree.”

“Last week Colin Craig’s lawyers told Justice Katz that Colin Craig was not willing to have her determine the damages; they want a full retrial.”

“I don’t want Rachel MacGregor or my mother or any other of my witnesses to have to go through it all again. The jury made clear findings. At every stage Mr Craig has wanted to stretch things out. We have no assurance he would not appeal after a new trial. So an appeal now could get to the key issues directly. It is the best way forward.”

It probably is the best way forward for Williams, but it has risks.

A new trial would presumably mean that there was no way that Williams could recover any costs from the first trial, and a new award would likely be significantly lower given Judge Katz’s judgment. Williams’ counsel would have had to seriously consider claiming significantly lower damages to avoid a repeat of the first trial.

NZ Herald have reported a response from Craig in: Jordan Williams appeals to try to avoid retrial in Colin Craig defamation case

Craig said Williams had every right to appeal, but he believed a retrial was the right way forward.

He said Justice Katz’s decision said a miscarriage of justice had occurred so he was not willing to accept the jury’s decision he had defamed Williams.

But Judge Katz said that the miscarriage of justice was due to the damages award being “well outside the range that could reasonably have been justified in all the circumstances of the case”, the Judge did not reject the jury’s decision that Craig had defamed Williams.

[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…As a result, there is no basis for entering judgment in favour of Mr Craig (as opposed to ordering a retrial).

So on to an appeal. The Court of Appeal is limited on what it can rule on, I think just on points of law in the judgment. So presumably Williams will ask for the setting aside to be overruled. I don’t know if the amount of damages can be changed on appeal, or if it’s an all or nothing situation.

Judge Katz took months before delivering her Judgment, and is likely to have anticipated a likely appeal, so is likely to have taken a lot of care in her Judgment. That doesn’t rule out having made a mistake in law, but it may narrow the grounds for appeal.

In the meantime there is one other matter from her judgment that I don’t know if it is still relevant or not, costs.

[113] This outcome is likely to raise some difficult costs issues. Leave is accordingly reserved to file costs memoranda in relation to both the trial and the present application, if costs cannot be agreed. Any memorandum on behalf of Mr Williams is to be filed by 5 May 2017. Any memorandum on behalf of Mr Craig is to be filed by 19 May 2017. Counsel are to indicate in their memoranda whether a hearing is sought in respect of costs.

I have no idea what can or may happen with this, given the verdict has been set aside. Perhaps we will find out next month. Or perhaps it will have to wait for the outcome of the appeal.

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

Police pay damages to Hager’s daughter

The Police stuffed up when they raided Nicky Hager’s house while he was away in October 2014.

Today lawyer Felix Geiringer has advised that the Police have agreed to pay damages and costs to Hager’s daughter, who was home at the time, had her bedroom searched, and had her computer and phone seized.

Police pay-out for Hager raid

In a further development of the legal proceedings over the Police raid of the home of investigative journalist Nicky Hager, the Police have today settled a claim brought by Nicky Hager’s daughter.

Nicky Hager’s home was raided by Police in October 2014. The raid was part of an investigation into the source of Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. In December of last year, the High Court ruled that the warrant that was used for the raid was “fundamentally unlawful”. The Police are not appealing that decision.

Nicky Hager’s daughter was the only one home when the Police turned up to raid the house. She had to stay and watch the 10-hour raid of her home. The Police search included a search of her bedroom and private belongings. The Police seized and cloned her phone and laptop. The laptop was kept by the Police for over four months. This all happened two weeks before she was due to submit her end-of-degree University papers.

The Police have agreed to pay Nicky Hager’s daughter damages and her costs. They have also agreed to destroy all copies of her information taken during the raid and copied. On that basis, his daughter has agreed to discontinue her proceedings against the Police.

Claims brought by Nicky Hager against the Police following the raid on his home are still ongoing.

During the case brought by Nicky Hager the Court directed that the names of some of those involved, including Nicky Hager’s daughter, not be released in relation to that proceeding.

It was a futile raid that was botched by the Police, at least they have agreed to settle on this.

Slater explains Craig’s appeal problem

Bill Hodge, expert on defamation, has called the award of $1.27 million in damages against Colin Craig as “breathtaking, eye-watering and mind-boggling” and that it is potentially a landmark moment in New Zealand defamation history.

NZH: Craig’s ‘breathtaking’ $1.3m defamation damages could set New Zealand record, says legal expert

A Kiwi defamation expert says the $1.3 million in damages former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been ordered to pay Jordan Williams is “breathtaking” and could make legal history.

In what could end up being the largest sum ever paid in a Kiwi defamation case, Auckland University Associate Professor of Law Bill Hodge says yesterday’s decision is a landmark moment.

Describing the $1.3m sum as incredible, Hodge predicts legal experts around the globe will be tracking the case – which he thinks is far from over.

“It’s breathtaking, eye-watering and mind-boggling. These are all the adjectives I would use to describe the amount,” Hodge said.

Hodge says he expects the Craig decision will also be appealed in a notoriously complex and expensive area of New Zealand law.

“There will be an appeal,” Hodge said. “The legal issues are extremely significant because it’s the equivalent of a self-defence response.

“It’s a difficult area, defences in defamation particularly. It needs further examination as to the extent that someone can ‘hit back’.

“My personal opinion is that the jury decided Craig went over the top with his response. He might have had a legitimate response if it was measured and in the appropriate form.

“It’s a bit like he was slapped by Jordan and he pulled out an automatic weapon and fired all his shots.”

Cameron Slater, who is lining up his own defamation case against Craig and I think has attended the whole of the proceedings in Williams v Craig, has posted a number of times on it since the jury announced their finding.

One of his best explanations of the problems Craig face with appealing the jury decision was actually in a comment on one of these posts, Why Colin Craig is pissing in the wind.

Here is the problem. The jury was given what is called a Question Trail. That is a trail of questions they need to answer in a logical manner to step them through the legal complexity of defamation law. The judge spent two hours summing up and directing the jury on how to use this Question trail to come to their decisions.

The Question Trail was drafted by Craig’s lawyer, then approved by Jordan’s lawyer and then finally by the Judge. Mills drafted the Question Trail to start with the defence if Qualified Privilege, then move to truth when that failed and then to honest opinion after that.

The Question trail contained 14 questions, and there were two counts so the jury had to step through 28 questions and write up their reasoning beside each one and hand that tot eh judge after the verdict was given.

The first few questions stepped through qualified privilege. They would not have been required to step through any more questions if the jury had considered qualified privilege and decided it applied. They clearly passed through those questions after quite some time…they deliberated for 10 hours.

They also stepped through the truth and honest opinion and came to the conclusion that Colin Craig HAD defamed Jordan Williams.

Further they considered the defamation to so extreme, so outrageous and so deliberate that they decided to award punitive damages against Craig.

When this gets to the Court of Appeal Craig is going to find the judges will look at the punitive damages and decided accordingly. Same with the qualified privilege argument. Mills knows they considered it, he would have known that after the jury retired for the night the first day. After that he would have been counselling his client to prepare for a loss.

Why?

Because in his closing argument he spent precisely two and half minutes explaining to the jury the truth defence, 5 minutes on honest opinion and a massive 40 minutes on qualified privilege. Craig was totally and utterly relying on qualified privilege.

For those who don’t know qualified privilege can be lost. Firstly if you were motivated by ill will in your response. The evidence was clear on that. Colin was motivated by ill will and the jury must have agreed.

I think ill will is still debatable. The jury does seem to have agreed that it was ill will, and I haven’t heard all the evidence, but I think Craig’s motivation is possible more complex than simple ill will.

The second was to lose qualified privilege is the breadth of the response. Jordan Williams spoke to about 5 people about Craig, Craig thought an appropriate response was to call him a liar in 1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide. Now you can see why the jury decided he lost qualified privilege.

While Hodge and a number of others have agreed that the 1.6 million pamphlets look like an inappropriate response – I have always thought they were an inappropriate response since they were sent out – I think the key is whether it was disproportionate enough to justify a massive award.

Slater understates Williams actions – “Jordan Williams spoke to about 5 people about Craig” omits a key detail, one of those who Williams spoke to and gave evidence to was Slater, and that is almost certain to have been in the knowledge that Slater would post about it on Whale Oil. In court it was claimed that Williams threatened exposure via Whale Oil when asking Conservative Party officials to dump Craig.

So the comparison is “1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide” versus “speaking to “about 5 people” plus publication on Whale Oil, which has a significant readership and Williams and Slater will have known and probably hoped that mainstream media would pick up what was posted about Craig and give it wider publicity.

“1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide” is still greater than posting on line and getting widespread news coverage, and Craig also sought news coverage through his press conference, but is quite a bit closer than Slater implies. Still inappropriate, over the top and quite possibly still over the legal line as far as defamation goes, but the degree of excessiveness could be debated in Court of Appeal, along with the amount of the damages.

That left truth as a defence, which was gone the moment you examine the Mr X interview. And honest opinion was forlorn as well.

Colin Craig will likely appeal this, but he is also likely to lose that appeal.

It sounds like Craig intends to appeal. If he does I think it’s quite likely it won’t be fully successful, but I think the chances of an adjustment in the amount of damages are quite high.

But Williams advantage is that he will start an appeal process from a very high point. Even if the award was halved or even quartered it would still be substantial, especially if costs are also awarded against Craig.

Also up for debate, although I don’t know whether this will be covered in any appeal, is what sort a reputation Williams had and how much it could be reduced by Craig’s actions. How much was Williams’ reputation damaged by what Craig published, versus how much his reputation was confirmed by what was revealed in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ (which has never been tested in court) and what was revealed in court.

Both the legal actions and the debate on this are probably far from over.