The judge in the Geoffrey Rush defamation case has ruled against a last minute bid from the Daily Telegraph to introduce a new witness to the trial.
Justice Michael Wigney ruled against the application on Tuesday morning, saying it would have caused “egregious prejudice” to Rush and effectively delayed the conclusion of the trial for six months.
Rush is suing the publishers of Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph and journalist Jonathon Moran, after they published allegations in November 2017 that Rush had been accused of behaving inappropriately towards a female cast member during the 2015-16 Sydney Theatre Company (STC) run of King Lear.
Rush, 67, has strenuously denied the allegations. He claims publisher Nationwide News defamed him in two articles and a poster by painting him as a pervert, a sexual predator who committed sexual assault while acting in King Lear, and by suggesting his conduct was so serious that the STC pledged to never work with him again.
Nationwide News is arguing a defence of truth based on the testimony of Eryn Jean Norvill, who played the role of King Lear’s daughter Cordelia in the production and alleges Rush sexually harassed her during the run of the play. She did not participate in the Telegraph’s stories and was not named in them.
The Telegraph launched the shock mid-trial bid to amend its defence and introduce the new witness on Tuesday last week, but it was not argued until Friday afternoon, at which point all but two witnesses in the case had already given evidence.
On Friday, Nationwide News barrister Tom Blackburn SC told Wigney that Norvill’s lawyer, Leon Zwier, had been in contact the previous Friday, October 26, to say Witness X “might be prepared to give evidence” in the case.
Blackburn argued that the evidence in the proposed amended defence could be capable of justifying some of the defamatory imputations pleaded by Rush.
“It is vitally important evidence to resolve a difficult factual dispute between the respondents and the applicants,” Blackburn said.
Kieran Smark SC, representing Rush, said the application “lies fairly clearly over the line” and should not be allowed.
“When these publications were published, let’s leave aside Witness X for a moment, the respondents hadn’t even secured the cooperation of Miss Norvill … They didn’t even have reliable hearsay,” he said.
“Having published what was a shadow of a story, they now seek permission … to run what is in substance a new and different case.”
Wigney said on Friday that if he allowed a new defence, he would have to adjourn the case until next April for availability reasons.
“That further hearing would involve an entire new set of allegations, an entire new set of witnesses, Mr Rush would have to be recalled among other things,” Wigney said, adding that he was concerned about the impact such an adjournment would have on Rush.
More to come.