Mr Porter has now endorsed the proposal, which will require legislation and be in place by next year under the review timeframe previously agreed to by federal, state and territory governments.
“The government supports recommendation 8 of the review and believes that defamation proceedings and outcomes should not depend on where a case is filed,” the Attorney-General told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “The government is working through how best the intent of this recommendation can be achieved, noting, for instance, that currently not all state and territory courts use juries in defamation cases.”
Before 2012, the Federal Court had never heard a case concerned only with defamation law. In recent years, however, it has proven popular with a slew of high-profile plaintiffs, including actor Geoffrey Rush in his case against The Daily Telegraph, businessman Chau Chak Wing in his case against Fairfax Media and former federal treasurer Joe Hockey in his case against Fairfax.
Plaintiffs are able to start proceedings in the Federal Court by demonstrating publication occurred in the Australian Capital Territory or Northern Territory, which is usually the case for matters involving major media outlets whose content is widely available.
Victorian barrister Matthew Collins QC, who acted for Fairfax in the Hockey case, endorsed the recommendation to remove incentives for forum shopping.
“It is highly desirable that there be uniformity between the different jurisdictions that can hear and determine defamation actions,” he said.
Other key proposals in the NSW-led defamation review include a “serious harm threshold” for claims, a single publication rule to ensure a one-year window for claims, improved pathways to encourage settlement without litigation, a new defence for responsible communication of matters in the public interest, and limiting payouts for successful claims.
The draft reforms are open for public consultation until January 24.