Colin Craig defamation case back in court

7:30 pm on 21 November 2017

A dispute between the former Conservative Party leader and the leader of the Taxpayers Union, described today by a Court of Appeal judge as a 'spat', actually had some political significance, the Court has been told.

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Taxpayers' Union leader Jordan Williams (left) was awarded $1.27 million in damages in the defamation claim against Colin Craig. Photo: Supplied / RNZ

In September last year a jury in the High Court at Auckland found Mr Craig had defamed Mr Williams and awarded Mr Williams damages of $1.27 million.

However earlier this year the court ruled that amount was unreasonably high, constituting a miscarriage of justice.

The highest previous defamation award was $825,000 granted to the Auckland accountant Michael Stiassny in 2008.

In her review of the case in April Justice Katz said the damages awarded were well outside any reasonable range by a significant margin.

"Viewed objectively, Mr Craig's statements cannot be said to have been markedly worse than the statements made in all of the previous defamation cases that have come before the court."

The case arose from a claim of sexual harassment made by Mr Craig's former press secretary, Rachel McGregor.

Mr Craig had agreed that, as a married man, the relationship had been inappropriate and the pair had settled their dispute at mediation, including agreeing to keep the matter confidential.

However Mr Williams learnt of what had happened and was said to have told senior members of the Conservative Party about it, as well as the blogger Cameron Slater.

In response Mr Craig published the pamphlet, which his trial heard was an effort to put the record straight.

Jordan Williams' lawyer, Peter McKnight told the Court of Appeal today that Justice Katz had not misdirected the jury and even if she did, it was not on a level requiring a retrial, as sought by Mr Craig.

"There was a very clear determination by the jury as to liability. It is suggested it would be a serious injustice to Mr Williams if he lost the advantages of those findings," Mr McKnight said.

Mr McKnight said the original defences raised by Colin Craig at the defamation trial related to truth and honest opinion, but they were later adjusted to include the question of whether he had qualified privilege in the things he said.

However Mr Craig's lawyer, Stephen Mills, told the Court of Appeal the case was not just a matter of vanity and style for his client.

"At the point this attack was made on Colin Craig the Conservatives were holding 4.7 percent in the polls approaching an election... and the party was a serious contender for parliament.

"While on one level this might seem like a dispute that's consumed a lot of time and effort by the Courts and parties and counsel, on another level at the heart of this was a very significant issue - Colin Craig was being strongly attacked by Jordan Williams and his decision not to take that wasn't surprising."

Mr Mills said the judge had to consider whether there was an attack by Mr Craig on Mr Williams and when she found there was, she next had to consider whether his client's response was relevant.

"Jordan Williams published to the world at large on Whale Oil and Colin Craig was responding to the world at large."

Justice Harrison questioned why the case had come before a jury in the first place.

"It should have been judge alone from the outset then we wouldn't be in this mess."

He also raised what should happen next if the Court of Appeal decides Justice Katz was correct to set aside the damages awarded against Colin Craig.

"Enough judicial resources have been wasted on it already and it would be most unfortunate to have to go through another trial."

"What we want to know is do we have jurisdiction to order she has [the power] to settle all outstanding issues."

The case is set down for two days.

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