Trevor Mallard loses bid to name the person in his defamation case

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jul 2020, 7:58PM
Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard. (Photo / File)
Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard. (Photo / File)

Trevor Mallard loses bid to name the person in his defamation case

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jul 2020, 7:58PM

Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard has lost a bid to name the person he has accused of being a rapist working at Parliament.

Mallard faces legal action after last year saying that a rapist was working at Parliament.

The Parliamentary worker, who was stood down last May after Mallard's comments, is alleging the Speaker defamed him.

The person is seeking damages of $400,000 and exemplary damages of $50,000.

In the High Court at Wellington, Mallard's lawyer Robert Stewart sought to set aside an earlier suppression order, arguing it was hindering preparation of the defence case and Mallard was concerned about the principles of open justice.

The person's lawyer, Peter McKnight, said his client wanted to maintain the suppression order at least until the start of the trial. He also presented medical evidence about his client and son, the details of which were suppressed by Associate Judge Kenneth Johnston.

The judge dismissed the application by Mallard, saying it was necessary to avoid a potential injustice to the person from allegedly defamatory material being confined to a few and published to the rest of the world.

The judge said setting aside the suppression orrder might have an adverse impact on the person's son, but that, in itself, did not justify continuation of the suppression order.

Judge Johnston allowed Mallard to disclose the person's name to other people to help him prepare his case, subject to orders to maintain confidentiality of the name.

Last month, Mallard said the defamation case has so far cost the taxpayer almost $80,000.

"I have received an inquiry as to the costs to date to the Parliamentary Service in the defamation action. All invoices to date have been paid totalling $79.979.33," he said in a statement.

"The case is currently subject to extensive non-publication orders therefore no further comment will be made."

Mallard made the comments in May last year as a report was released by independent reviewer Debbie Francis into bullying and harassment at Parliament, which revealed 14 people who said they had been the victim of a sexual assault in the parliamentary workplace.

The report highlighted three serious incidents that Mallard said in media interviews were the actions of a man still working at Parliament.

"Reading the report carefully, I get the sense that the man is still on the premises," he told RNZ.

"I'm not aware whether they are an MP or staff ... I don't know who it is. If I knew who it is, I would tell the police."

Mallard characterised the alleged incidents as rape.

"We're talking about serious sexual assault. Well that, for me, that's rape."

Asked if he meant that people had been raped at Parliament, Mallard said: "That is the impression I get from the report, yes."

His comments - called shocking by some parliamentary workers - sparked a series of turbulent events that led to a historical assault complaint and a parliamentary staffer being stood down.

Mallard then said a threat to safety had been removed from the premises.

The staffer, who the Herald has chosen not to identify, later lashed out at Mallard, saying he felt bullied out of the workplace and was the victim of Mallard's "slanderous" comments.

At the time, National's then deputy leader Paula Bennett called Mallard's comments a "serious lapse in judgment", but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she continued to have confidence in him.

Nick Smith: Remarks an 'inappropriate attack'

National MP Nick Smith said Mallard revealing the legal bill was prompted after Smith had lodged a written parliamentary question about the matter on Tuesday.

He called the amount a "big sum of money" to cover an "inappropriate attack" on a parliamentary worker.

"The taxpayer would not be footing this bill if it wasn't for the fact that the Speaker went way too far in accusing someone in a way that was inaccurate."

Smith went further, accusing Mallard of abusing his power in light of the fact that Smith was forced to leave the House under escort late last night for arguing with Assistant Speaker Adrian Rurawhe.

Smith – who had already been removed from the House during Question Time for arguing with Mallard on Thursday – was escorted out of the debating chamber by the Serjeant-at-Arms and has since returned to Nelson.

He did not physically resist but, as he was removed from the House, yelled: "What sort of Nazi establishment is running the place?"

"I find it extraordinary that the Speaker is releasing this information only after I lodged a written on Tuesday. He uses his powers as Speaker to do me over on Thursday, sends me home and then late on Friday releases the embarrassing information."

The Speaker cannot force Smith to leave Wellington, but Smith had no reason to stay as he was banned from the chamber.

"This is an abuse of power by the Speaker by targeting me in the Parliament for asking uncomfortable questions about The Speaker's Office around this taxpayer bill," Smith said.

"It's just too cute that he released the information not through the written question system, and when he has removed me from the parliamentary precinct."

If a minister had responded to a written parliamentary question in the same way, it would be a contempt, Smith said.