Court allows secret parts of ABC defence in Christian Porter defamation case to be seen by coroner

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<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The South Australian coroner has been given access to an unredacted copy of the ABC’s defence in its defamation case against Christian Porter as part of an investigation into the death of the woman who accused him of raping her three decades ago.

Porter strenuously denies the allegations.

As the SA coroner continues to weigh up whether to hold an inquest into the woman’s death at her home in Adelaide in June last year, the New South Wales federal court on Wednesday varied a suppression order on the ABC’s defence in the now-defunct defamation case brought by the former attorney general.

Related: Christian Porter and barrister Sue Chrysanthou may have to pay $500,000 in legal fees to Jo Dyer

The orders allow the court to release the redacted 27 pages of material to members of the South Australian coroner’s court, including the “state coroner and senior counsel assisting the state coroner, Stephen Plummer, and such other persons as each of them may authorise for the purpose of the investigation into the death of a person referred to in the unredacted defence”.

A spokeswoman for the coroner said in a statement that the counsel assisting “requested the material from the federal court of Australia as part of the ongoing investigation”. She said no decision had been made on whether to hold an inquest.

In March, the coroner directed police in South Australia to conduct further investigations into the woman’s death before deciding whether to hold an inquest, saying a brief of evidence handed to him over the woman’s death in June 2020 was “incomplete”.

“This was particularly evident having regard to information contained in recent media reports,” the coroner, David Whittle, said at the time.

While no decision on whether to hold an inquest has been made public, the order for release of the defence states it was being made available “for the purpose of the investigation into the death of a person referred to in the unredacted defence”.

The material in the defence remains secret after Porter agreed to discontinue his defamation case against the ABC over a news article that reported allegations an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of raping a woman in the 1980s.

Porter has strenuously denied the allegations, but dropped the defamation case despite failing to secure an apology or retraction from the public broadcaster over the story.

Related: Keeping ABC defence secret in Christian Porter case would require ‘special treatment’, court told

Instead, the ABC added a post-publication note to the story – which remains online – stating it “did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged” and “did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil”.

While both parties agreed to destroy the still-redacted defence that had been put forward in the case, a number of news organisations have sought access to the confidential file. At a hearing in June, Justice Jayne Jagot questioned whether the parties could make that decision as part of the out-of-court deal.

At a hearing to decide whether the document should be made public earlier this month, lawyers for Nine and News Limited argued keeping the document secret would amount to “special treatment”.

Justice Jagot will hand down her ruling on Friday on whether the document should remain sealed.

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