Christian Porter Ordered to Pay Legal Costs

by Sonia Hickey
Christian Porter photo

Despite withdrawing his defamation case against the ABC, Christian Porter could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

The nation’s former chief law officer chose to withdrew his proceedings against the broadcaster and its journalist Louise Milligan, before claiming this as a victory.

The ABC did not delete the allegedly offending article, but did add an editor’s note expressing ‘regret’ that it may have suggested the former Attorney-General was guilty of the alleged offences outlined therein.

The broadcaster also agreed to pay mediation costs.

Many took to social media to express their view this was not a victory for Mr Porter at all, and that he should have fought on to clear his name.

The story so far

The ABC story alleged that an unnamed senior minister was the subject of an historical sexual assault allegation dating back to 1988.

Under intense public scrutiny, the then Attorney-General outed himself as the minister concerned, although some had already made the connection.

Mr Porter has always strenuously denied the allegations and no charges have ever been laid against him.

Shortly after, he announced he would proceed with a defamation case against the national broadcaster, and engaged high-profile Sydney barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC.

However, days before the case was due in court, Ms Chrysanthou was restrained from acting for Mr Porter.

Conflict of interest

Jo Dyer, a long-time friend of the alleged victim, only known as Kate, successfully prevented Ms Chrysanthou SC from acting.

Ms Dyer provided information that the barrister had met with Ms Chrysanthou in November 2020, received confidential information and provided her with advice. Acting for Mr Porter in those circumstances amounted to a conflict of interest, which could give amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct.

In June 2021, Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley ordered Ms Chrysanthou and Mr Porter to pay Ms Dyer’s legal fees – estimated to be around $500,000.

$500,000 legal bill

His Honour made a joint costs order, meaning it could be enforced against either Mr Porter, Ms Chrysanthou or both.

In many serious cases brought in the civil courts, the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the legal costs of the successful party – whether on a party/party, solicitor/client or indemnity basis.

Cost orders are enforceable, and failure to pay can result in enforcement action being taken.

Mr Porter is, however, appealing the decision.

Private prosecution against Porter

Despite no charges ever being laid in the alleged historical rape case, Mr Porter could still face court over the matter because earlier this month, the New Liberals Party announced it would be commencing a private criminal prosecution against him.

The party’s candidate for Robertson, Vania Holt has a background in criminal law, having spent six years as a prosecutor for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ms Holt says she has engaged Sydney criminal defence barrister Mark Higgins to lead a private criminal prosecution against Mr Porter over the allegations.

The decision came after the ‘Porter Dossier’ was released by the Federal Court. Within the documents is a statement by the victim including graphic details of her allegation that Porter raped her three times in the early hours of 10 January 1988.

It also includes comments by friends that the victim felt “the risk of killing herself if she did pursue the claim had to be weighed against the risk of killing herself if she did not pursue the claim”, and a number of witnesses who were available on the night of the alleged sexual assault who would be able to give circumstantial evidence.

Mr Porter’s lawyers have dismissed the private prosecution as nothing more than a ‘publicity stunt’, but friends of the victim see the private prosecution as an important step in testing the evidence available, and bringing more information out into the public. They have consistently lobbied for an independent inquiry into the accusation, but that is unlikely to ever happen, especially given that NSW Police have closed the case.

The South Australian coroner is yet to make a decision about whether or not to launch an inquest into Kate’s death.

Despite withdrawing his defamation case against the ABC, Christian Porter could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

The nation’s former chief law officer chose withdrew his proceedings against the broadcaster and its journalist Louise Milligan, before claiming this as a victory.

The ABC did not delete the allegedly offending article, but did add an editor’s note expressing ‘regret’ that it may have suggested the former Attorney-General was guilty of the alleged offences outlined therein.

The broadcaster also agreed to pay mediation costs.

Many took to social media to express their view this was not a victory for Mr Porter at all, and that he should have fought on to clear his name.

The story so far

The ABC story alleged that an unnamed senior minister was the subject of an historical sexual assault allegation dating back to 1988.

Under intense public scrutiny, the then Attorney-General outed himself as the minister concerned, although some had already made the connection.

Mr Porter has always strenuously denied the allegations and no charges have ever been laid against him.

Shortly after, he announced he would proceed with a defamation case against the national broadcaster, and engaged high-profile Sydney barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC.

However, days before the case was due in court, Ms Chrysanthou was restrained from acting for Mr Porter.

Conflict of interest

Jo Dyer, a long-time friend of the alleged victim, only known as Kate, successfully prevented Ms Chrysanthou SC from acting.

Ms Dyer provided information that the barrister had met with Ms Chrysanthou in November 2020, received confidential information and provided her with advice. Acting for Mr Porter in those circumstances amounted to a conflict of interest, which could give amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct.

In June 2021, Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley ordered Ms Chrysanthou and Mr Porter to pay Ms Dyer’s legal fees – estimated to be around $500,000.

$500,000 legal bill

His Honour made a joint costs order, meaning it could be enforced against either Mr Porter, Ms Chrysanthou or both.

In many serious cases brought in the civil courts, the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the legal costs of the successful party – whether on a party/party, solicitor/client or indemnity basis.

Cost orders are enforceable, and failure to pay can result in enforcement action being taken.

Mr Porter is, however, appealing the decision.

Private prosecution against Porter

Despite no charges ever being laid in the alleged historical rape case, Mr Porter could still face court over the matter because earlier this month, the New Liberals Party announced it would be commencing a private criminal prosecution against him.

The party’s candidate for Robertson, Vania Holt has a background in criminal law, having spent six years as a prosecutor for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ms Holt says she has engaged Sydney criminal defence barrister Mark Higgins to lead a private criminal prosecution against Mr Porter over the allegations.

The decision came after the ‘Porter Dossier’ was released by the Federal Court. Within the documents is a statement by the victim including graphic details of her allegation that Porter raped her three times in the early hours of 10 January 1988.

It also includes comments by friends that the victim felt “the risk of killing herself if she did pursue the claim had to be weighed against the risk of killing herself if she did not pursue the claim”, and a number of witnesses who were available on the night of the alleged sexual assault who would be able to give circumstantial evidence.

Mr Porter’s lawyers have dismissed the private criminal prosecution as nothing more than a ‘publicity stunt’, but friends of the victim see it as important step in bringing more information out into the public. They have consistently lobbied for an independent inquiry into the accusation, but that is unlikely to ever happen, especially given that the Prime Minister has dismissed the idea, citing a misguided notion of the rule of law, and NSW Police have closed the case.

The South Australian coroner is yet to make a decision about whether or not to launch an inquest into Kate’s death.

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Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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