The defamation case against Andrew Little has been an unwelcome distraction while he should have been free to do his job as leader of the largest opposition party. While the outcome wasn’t conclusive, the consensus is that the process delivered a qualified win for Little, and a clear win for democracy. Claire Trevett in The Herald:
Andrew Little defamation trial a win for future Opposition leaders – and the lawyers
As is often the case in such matters, the only winners in monetary terms were the lawyers.
Little joked that had a substantial award been handed down he would have ended “busking at the bottom of Lambton Quay.” He may well end up there anyway – he was yet to get his own bill from lawyer John Tizard. But he may have saved others from busking on Lambton Quay.
The other winners in the case were future Leaders of the Opposition. Little’s present to them was Justice Karen Clark’s ruling that as Leader of the Opposition he met the criteria for the defence of qualified privilege.
The ruling acknowledges Little had a moral or legal duty to make the statements he had, in the course of holding the Government to account. It offers some protection in defamation suits, unless the person claiming it was motivated by ill-will or otherwise abused the privilege.
The jury was unable to decide if he had ceded his right to it, but it proved Little’s saving grace in the end.
If that holds up untrammelled through any appeals, Little’s successors will thank him.
Little defamation case: Juries are not that daft
Let’s hope the unusual hoteliers the Hagamans don’t continue their legal pursuit of Labour Party leader Andrew Little.
Their first round ended in failure in the High Court at Wellington.
Importantly, the result is a win for robust political speech. Little did question the Hagamans’ donation to National and the later hotel deal. But his target in questioning that was less the Hagamans and more the National Party.
He is Leader of the Opposition. He smelled a rat and said so. It turned out the rat was in Little’s imagination – the Auditor General found no link between the Hagaman deal and the donation.
Last week’s High Court hearing had been seen as a gift for National. Not only had the case and the days in court distracted and discombobulated Little, but an award against him for six figures would have carried an implication of some heinous wrong.
In private, and on social media, National’s acolytes tried to stoke the implausible possibility that a heavy loss for Little would prompt the Labour Party to ditch his damaged brand and elevate Jacinda Ardern to the top job. The glee in anticipation was wrong-headed.
It is important for politicians to be able to speak out strongly against those in power. They need to get it right, of course, and when they err they need to put that right. But a culture of suing politicians for unseemly sums of money in a general election year is something New Zealand would do well to discourage. …
Updated with – an anonymous editorial on Stuff:
Democracy was the winner on the day
…Little’s narrow victory was also a win for democracy. It enshrines the vital role of the leader of the opposition as someone unafraid to examine and criticise the workings of government. It could even boost Little’s credentials as a campaigner against cronyism.
But the Hagamans also have to understand that it is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy that the process of political donations and the possibility of influence is scrutinised by politicians and the media.
This has been an important case for NZ. Thank goodness we got it right.