Australian court makes $1.6m libel damages award

Ex-employee's revenge ends in NSW Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court of New South Wales has ordered a former employee of SMEC Holdings Ltd to pay $1.6 million damages (£681,600) to the company and three of its directors.

Glen Boniface denied being responsible for the circulation of a series of anonymous emails which contained serious allegations of corruption, bribery and fraud on the part of SMEC and its directors. 

Following an earlier jury trial finding that Mr Boniface had sent the emails, the Supreme Court rejected Mr Boniface’s defences of qualified privilege and comment. A further defence under s.13 of the Defamation Act 1974 that the recipients were unlikely to place much weight on “poison pen” anonymous communications also failed.

The Court refused to accept Mr Boniface’s argument that the proceedings were an abuse of process and this should be reflected in mitigation of damages. Mr Boniface, who was sacked in 2001, claimed that as the plaintiffs were aware that he did not have the means to pay damages the purpose of the proceedings could not have been to obtain vindication but was instead intended to obtain evidence to use in separate proceedings. Simpson J concluded that the plaintiffs were seeking vindication and that the point was irrelevant:

“In any event, I have difficulty in understanding the proposition that if proceedings are brought for an improper purpose, that bears upon the assessment of damages. Other remedies are appropriate where that is the situation.”