Actor John Jarratt has launched a second defamation lawsuit against the Daily Telegraph over its reporting of rape allegations against him.
Jarratt originally sued the Telegraph in the NSW supreme court over a front-page story detailing allegations by a former housemate, but dropped the lawsuit in August after he was found not guilty of rape.
However, on 22 November he filed a fresh lawsuit in the federal court – a jurisdiction that has several advantages to plaintiffs including speed and the lack of a jury.
In a statement of claim filed with the court, Jarratt says a separate article the Telegraph published on 7 July reporting the reaction of his accuser to the not guilty verdict conveyed imputations including that he “is a rapist” and “got away with rape”.
He claims the article also defamed him by saying he “ruined a woman’s life by sexually assaulting her” so that she was “unable to marry and have children” and “got away with ruining a woman’s life by sexually assaulting her”.
Jarratt has applied for aggravated damages because of the “over-sensationalised” tone of the article and because the Telegraph knew he had been acquitted three days earlier.
His lawyer, Bill Kalantzis, declined to comment when asked why Jarratt had commenced a second defamation suit in the federal court.
However, barrister Bruce McClintock SC, who represented Jarratt in the first defamation action, said it was “because he was defamed a second time”.
McClintock said Jarratt had no need to avoid a jury by choosing the federal court, pointing out he was found not guilty by a jury at his criminal trial.
“The real reason is speed,” he said. The aggravated damages claim was not absurd, he said. “This looks to me like News Corp doubling down. News asserted Jarratt was guilty when they knew he had been acquitted.”
Speaking generally, McClintock said defamation lawsuits were not a quick and easy money-maker. “No plaintiff commences proceedings as a shakedown for quick cash and I’ll tell you why: it never happens. Media organisations fight and they fight very hard.”
The Telegraph’s owner, News Corp, has been contacted for comment.
Jarratt’s lawsuit comes as state and federal attorneys general consider an overhaul of defamation laws that media companies and journalists say have become unworkable and created a chilling effect due to a series of sky-high payouts to plaintiffs.
The role and increased popularity of the federal court for these cases has also come under scrutiny, with experts saying the ability for plaintiffs to choose whether or not to run their case in front of a jury is “contrary to the legislative intent” of Australia’s defamation laws.
Media organisations are also believed to be unhappy with new guidelines for defamation cases issued by the court’s chief justice, James Allsop, that contain several plaintiff-friendly features.
These include a tight timeline to file defences and a clause that discourages judges from carving off the question of whether imputations claimed by the plaintiff are actually contained in the publication in question. Instead, all such issues are to be decided at trial.
If followed, this would prevent media organisations knocking out allegations at an early stage in the process and instead force them to make a full defence of imputations they claim do not arise.