Decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith’s mental health is suffering as a “campaign of slander” is waged by Nine publications as he awaits trial, according to his lawyer.
The Victoria Cross recipient and former Special Air Service Soldier, is suing three Nine newspapers over reports he committed murder while serving in Afghanistan.
He strongly denies the claims and says they paint him as a war criminal.
Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, told the Federal Court on Friday a trial date should be set at the earliest date.
Ben Roberts-Smith. Picture: Sean Davey.
“My client is being continually crucified by the respondents and it’s having a dire impact on his mental welfare,” he said.
“The respondents are continuing their campaign of slander and defamation through the pages of their newspapers. There’s a weekly article.
“He’s suffering ongoing damage. He’s suffering personally and reputationally as a result of that.
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“The public interest in this case is extreme. I ask your honour for a date in March.”
Nine’s barrister Sandy Dawson SC said he did not want to get in a “mud-slinging match”. He had other matters in March, and asked for a trial in June and July.
“My clients say what they published was true and there is no campaign against Mr Roberts-Smith,” Mr Dawson said.
“They are very experienced and respected journalists. They have an interest in this matter going to trial. I don’t want to get into a mud-slinging match about this.”
Mr Dawson said COVID travelling restrictions would make it difficult to see witnesses and review documents ahead of a trial in March.
“If restrictions begin to ease, that will become easier,” he said.
Justice Anthony Besanko said he would announce his trial date decision in writing before or at the next hearing on September 1.
Originally published as ‘Campaign of slander’ hurting war hero’s mental health: Lawyer