Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 2645 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
misreported, perhaps by one newspaper or a news service, and picked up by a number of other news services and relayed in those newspapers. In effect, multiple defamations have been picked up years after the original defamation and writs have been issued all over the country to these newspapers, even small regional newspapers, saying, "You have defamed us in your publication five years previously. We would like you to send us a cheque to reimburse us for the pain and suffering we have suffered" - or whatever the expression is in respect of defamation - "in respect of the publication of that particular matter".
Mr Speaker, that is a silly use of the law and, in my view, we should not facilitate its being the case in the ACT. It should not be possible for people to hunt down some defamatory reference that they deduce must be somewhere else, of which they have no particular evidence in their own day-to-day lives, and then claim - - -
Mr Berry: Why not?
MR HUMPHRIES: Because the concept of defamation is to protect reputation. If a person travels for five years, say, without realising that they have had any damage to their reputation and then discovers a publication five years previously where they have been defamed and where their reputation notionally has been damaged, you would have to argue that the likelihood of there being any real damage to their reputation, no matter what might be the outcome of a court - - -
Mr Berry: But the court would take that into account.
MR HUMPHRIES: But they do not take it into account to the extent necessary.
Mr Kaine: They might be just letting it fester and be building up a good, solid hate.
MR HUMPHRIES: That is true. It is better than letting it fester. But I suspect that in these cases people have not let it fester for five years; they have simply not known about it for five years. In fact, I do not think that it would be true to say that the court would take account of that five-year period in that way. In fact, I do not believe that there is any statutory requirement to reduce the measure of damages because the plaintiff was unaware of the defamation. I am open to be corrected about that.
Mr Berry: But, if they were aware and did not do anything, they would take account of that.
MR HUMPHRIES: They would not be penalised necessarily if they were not aware the publication had occurred. If they were not aware, Mr Speaker, I doubt that they would be penalised.
Mr Berry: But if they were aware and did not take any action.
MR HUMPHRIES: Yes, that is true; but it is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about where they were unaware of the defamation and did not do anything about it. That, Mr Speaker, seems to me to be a strange and unsatisfactory state of affairs. In short, Mr Speaker, the Government's view is that if a person's reputation