'Enormous' Jones, Wagner battle to be heard without jury

10th October 2017 10:39 AM
Radio personality Alan Jones is among those the Wagners are suing. Radio personality Alan Jones is among those the Wagners are suing. Contributed

A HIGH-PROFILE defamation suit involving broadcaster Alan Jones and the wealthy Wagner family will be heard without a jury.

Denis, John, Neill and Joe Wagner sued Mr Jones, Radio 4BC Brisbane, journalist Nick Cater, and Harbour Radio over comments made after the devastating January 2011 Queensland floods.

But the Wagners argued the complexity of the case meant a jury could face hundreds of individual legal decisions.

In a decision handed down on Tuesday, Justice Peter Applegarth told Brisbane Supreme Court the case would be heard without a jury.

"In my view, the size and complexity of the jury's enormous task presents an unacceptably high risk that it will be unable to perform its task, despite its best efforts and despite the assistance of the trial judge in providing redirections and further assistance," Justice Applegarth said in his new judgment.

"Given the number and complexity of the questions, there is a very real risk that a jury will be unable to agree upon, and therefore answer, a large number of questions."

A jury would face an "enormous" burden, the justice said, "not simply in considering many weeks of lay and expert evidence about the Grantham floods, as well as evidence about the construction of an airport and alleged conspiracies and cover-ups."

"It will be required to answer hundreds of questions. The parties cannot point to a case in which a civil jury has faced such a task."

The justice said it was yet to be seen what expert evidence the broadcasters would call.

"It would be extraordinary if the defendants pleaded the defences of truth which they have without first securing expert evidence in writing from a suitably qualified, well-informed expert," Justice Applegarth added.

He said the Wagners were suing over 32 "publications" and claimed a total of 98 imputations.

Earlier this year, Justice Applegarth described an "essential sting" to what the Wagners claimed were defamations.

The Wagners had argued some broadcasts contained "imputations" that wrongly suggested they were to blame for the deaths of 12 people, or for the deadly flood when a quarry wall or levee breached or collapsed.

But lawyers for Mr Jones, Mr Cater and the radio companies rejected claims those meanings were in fact conveyed in the broadcasts.

As NewsRegional previously reported, a 2014 commission of inquiry cleared the Wagners of responsibility for the floods.

Mr Jones has maintained his actions were those of a journalist acting in a community's best interests after the tragedy.

-NewsRegional