In a defence, the newspapers have argued the articles do not convey the defamatory imputations pleaded by Mr Roberts-Smith and he is not identifiable in some of them.

However, if the Federal Court finds the articles did identify and defame him, the outlets have pleaded a defence of truth to all the claims, including alleging Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in unlawful killings in Afghanistan.

A trial in the case was originally set for June this year, however it was vacated due to concerns over coronavirus.

On Monday, Justice Anthony Besanko set the new trial date for June 7, 2021, with an estimated length of six to eight weeks.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyers had sought a date in March, telling the court he was being “continually crucified” in media reports, but Justice Besanko said he decided on the later date due to the uncertain course of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Victoria Cross recipient’s barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, raised the possibility on Monday of the trial being held in Adelaide, to allow witnesses in Western Australia to travel more easily, but Justice Besanko said the trial will remain in Sydney for the moment.

Mr McClintock said the newspapers applied to amend their defence after Mr Roberts-Smith served an outline of evidence, which said the soldier was on another mission on October 31 when one of the incidents was alleged to have unfolded.

The barrister described it as “an alibi, and one might say a cast-iron alibi” and said the newspapers “did nothing about checking that” for quite some time.

He asked that the newspapers be ordered to explain the “unsatisfactory” delay, but Justice Besanko declined to make the order. One affidavit has already been filed explaining why the amendments to the defence were sought, the court heard.

The case will return to court in November for a preliminary hearing.


By admin