Court outcome a 'wake-up call' to regulatory authorities
IT'S not yet clear whether Byron Bay blogger Esther Rockett will be able to use documents discovered in the unsuccessful defamation case against her to raise concerns about Universal Medicine with regulatory bodies.
But her lawyer, Stewart O'Connell of O'Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, has argued the verdict in her favour will send a clear message.
UM leader Serge Benhayon began defamation proceedings against Ms Rockett in 2015.
In a six-week trial which ended two months ago, a four-person jury found imputations alleged by the UM leader, including that Mr Benhayon was "the leader of a socially harmful cult” and that Universal Medicine "engages in misleading conduct in promoting the healing services it offers”, to be true.
Justice Julia Lonergan has reserved her decision on whether Ms Rockett will be granted leave to use documents found in the discovery period of the case, but not tendered to court, to bring concerns about UM to the attention of regulatory authorities.
She may hand down a decision on this matter, and on how costs will be determined, next week.
Mr O'Connell said patient safety had always been his client's "primary concern”.
"It's our view that this was not only a win for free speech, but it was also a wake-up call to the regulatory authorities that they can't just turn a blind eye to these alternative health practices,” Mr O'Connell said.
In a final hearing before Sydney Supreme Court yesterday, Ms Rockett's barrister Tom Molomby said some of the arguments referred to the involvement of children in various UM events.
"Some of the key authorities don't appear to have been very quick off the mark,” Mr Molomby said.
He said granting this application would give those authorities "the sharpest push possible”.
Mr Benhayon's barrister Nicholas Olson argued it would not be appropriate to allow Ms Rockett to use the documents in this way.
"Ms Rockett does not seek to ... use material for the purpose of vindicating her own legal rights, or defending proceedings brought against her,” Mr Olson said.
"She proposes to use that material for the entirely collateral purpose of making complaints to regulatory authorities and lobbying for legislative action.
"Yet Ms Rockett is a private individual. She has no special standing to make complaints about Universal Medicine's alleged conduct or to pursue a course of political lobbying.”
Justice Lonergan has supported the jury's overall findings that upheld Ms Rockett's defences of truth and honest opinion for most of the publications.
She also found the publications were covered by the qualified privilege defence.