Assange threat is hot air, say experts
Prominent defamation lawyer Stuart Littlemore, QC, has labelled attempts by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange to find ways of suing Prime Minister Julia Gillard for defamation as nothing more than a stunt.
Mr Littlemore and other legal experts yesterday said defamation claims generally had to be made within 12 months of the comments.
As reported by Fairfax, Assange has hired Australian lawyers to look at ways of pursuing legal action over comments Ms Gillard made in December 2010.
''MasterCard Australia, in justifying why it has made a blockade preventing any Australian MasterCard holder from donating to WikiLeaks, used that statement by Julia Gillard as justification,'' Assange said.
''So the effects of the statement are ongoing and they directly affect the financial viability of WikiLeaks. We are considering suing for defamation. So I have hired lawyers in Sydney and they are investigating the different ways in which we can sue Gillard over that statement.''
Mr Littlemore said there were many legal hurdles standing in the way, including a statute of limitations for defamation, as well as the defence of truth.
''I can't see that it is anything else but a stunt,'' Mr Littlemore told The Canberra Times.
''For the life of me I cannot imagine that there is a cause of action that WikiLeaks could ever bring, least of all if it had done it within time.
''Nobody can sue for something that is statute-barred - they would need the leave of the court, and I can't see why that would be granted.''
Other legal experts also said it would be difficult because Ms Gillard's comments were made more than a year ago.
However, University of Technology, Sydney media law lecturer and barrister Geoff Holland said there were other legal options WikiLeaks could explore.
Mr Holland said Assange, on behalf of WikiLeaks, could potentially make a claim in the tort of injurious falsehood - which had a six-year limitation period - if he could prove it had suffered financial loss from the comments.
''The difference between it and defamation is there is a need to prove actual harm. If he can show, for example, that MasterCard and others have withdrawn their support of payments … to WikiLeaks,'' Mr Holland said.
''He may well be able to … but he needs to establish that what was said was false and in fact caused him harm.''
Mr Littlemore hosted the ABC's Media Watch for nearly a decade and his former clients include Pauline Hanson and Mercedes Corby.
''If I could be sure I wouldn't be accused of touting for work, I'd say that I'd be happy to accept the brief to defend the Prime Minister,'' Mr Littlemore said.