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Howes refused bigger jury in stepfather's libel case

A JUDGE has dismissed a bid by the Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes to have a defamation case against him heard by a large jury, despite concerns he could be perceived as a ''whinger or a sook'' by those who do not like his politics.

Gary Howes is suing ACP Magazines, the Australian Women's Weekly editor-in-chief Helen McCabe and Paul Howes over a profile of the unionist titled ''The most gut-wrenching day of my life'', published in last July's edition of the magazine.

The article gave Paul Howes's account of meeting his birth mother for the first time, at the age of 30, and his upbringing with his stepfather and his adoptive mother.

Gary Howes claims the article had several defamatory imputations including that he humiliated his stepson since he was a young boy, that he mentally tortured him, that he treated his wife terribly and that he is ''an awful human being because of the way he mistreated his family'', the NSW Supreme Court has heard.

He claims that the three defendants were ''recklessly indifferent to the truth'' and the story was published in a ''grandstanding way'' to further Paul Howes's career, the court has been told.

The defendants, who denied the imputations were conveyed, applied to have the matter heard before a jury of 12, rather than a jury of four, which is procedure in civil trials in NSW.


They said that the prominence of Paul Howes as a union boss, a senior member of the ALP and with some association with the Prime Minister in an election year could ''arouse prejudice or antagonism against him in the minds of at least some jurors''.

At an earlier hearing, Tom Blackburn, SC, for the defendants, said the charges were so emotional he feared some jurors would not be able to look at the evidence dispassionately and could form the view that Paul Howes is ''just a whinger or a sook''.

''It's going to be very hard for the person who doesn't like Mr Howes, or is vehemently opposed or has contempt for him because of his politics, to sift that out and then approach in a rational and calm manner the assessment of what, no doubt, will be the competing evidence about how he's been treated,'' Mr Blackburn said.

Justice William Nicholas said the case would not touch upon public conduct of the union boss, his life as a public figure or political matters, and did not warrant a jury of 12.