Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes has agreed to pay Nine Newspapers’ full legal costs after defending Ben Roberts-Smith in his failed defamation case against the publisher.
Nicholas Owens, SC, barrister for Nine’s newspapers, has described the result as a “complete capitulation.”
The costs will be at least $16 million, but Chris Masters – one of the journalists at the centre of the case – has estimated that the costs will sit around the $39 million mark.
The move will mean that 8600 emails between Seven Network commercial director Bruce McWilliam and Roberts-Smith’s lawyers – which Federal Court judge Nye Perram described as containing “personally embarrassing” content – will not be released.
The case is set to return to court on Tuesday.
Ben Roberts-Smith, a Victoria Cross recipient and former SAS soldier, had attempted to sue the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times in regard to a series of 2018 articles that he says defamed him. As well as the papers themselves, Roberts-Smith took action against journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters, and former journalist David Wroe. The articles alleged that he had committed murder and other war crimes during his deployment in Afghanistan.
In June, Justice Anthony Besanko delivered his judgment in the defamation case, handing down a verdict that was won for the papers, having proven the truth of the most serious allegations against Roberts-Smith.
Roberts-Smith himself was not in the Sydney courtroom at the time, having flown to Bali in the previous days.
The year-long trial has been the first time that any court has been asked to assess allegations of war crimes by Australian forces. It involved more than 100 days of evidence, 42 witnesses called in from around the globe, and hundreds of exhibits shown to the court.