Australia: Decorated Soldier Loses War Crimes Defamation Case

Image copyright: US Army [via Wikimedia Commons]

The Facts

  • Australia's Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko on Thursday dismissed the multimillion-dollar defamation case brought by the country's most decorated soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, against three Nine-owned newspapers.

  • The Victoria Cross recipient and former Special Air Service soldier sued the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times for libel after they depicted him as a war criminal, a bully, and a liar who "broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement."

The Spin

Narrative A

Roberts-Smith brought this defamation suit to try to vindicate his reputation, with his lawyers arguing that he was easily identifiable even though the 2018 reports did not name him. However, this move has backfired now that the newspapers have been found to have told the truth. The judge has ruled loud and clear that the Victoria Cross recipient is a war criminal and murderer.

Narrative B

This is certainly a victory for the newspapers but the legal battle is far from over. Roberts-Smith's legal team is now assessing the lengthy judgment in order to pursue a potential appeal of the decision, which would go to the full Federal Court first and to the full bench of the Federal Court next.

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