The recent Victorian Supreme Court decision in Amanatidis
& Anor v Darmos  VSC 163 illustrates how damages in
defamation cases may be increased where a defence is conducted
improperly at trial.
Various family members were engaged in an acrimonious dispute
about their late father's estate. The court found that the
defendant, who was the first plaintiff's sister, caused two
letters (which had not been written by her) carrying defamatory
imputations about the plaintiffs to be sent to another family
member and the family's local priest. The defamatory
allegations included that:
the plaintiffs were squandering the deceased's estate
one of the plaintiffs had stolen the deceased's car and
gold Rolex watch
one of the plaintiffs had "robbed the dead" by taking
a wallet, money, papers and "anything else she found"
from the deceased's pockets.
There was no dispute that the letters were defamatory of the
plaintiffs. However, the defendant simply asserted that she did not
publish the letters, or play any role in their delivery to third
parties. Despite this "bare denial" defence, at the trial
the defendant's counsel repeatedly attacked the credibility of
the plaintiffs and made what Justice Sifris described as "a
number of serious allegations". In particular, defence
counsel, despite warnings from the bench, put to the plaintiffs
that they had "concocted" the defamatory letters and that
the defamation proceedings had been brought for an improper
purpose. Statements such as these were made about the plaintiffs
despite the defendant not having pleaded any form of justification
The judge awarded the plaintiffs a total of A$15,000 in damages.
This was said to include an element of aggravated damages,
partially as a result of the "unjustifiable and improper"
conduct of defence counsel at the trial.
A defendant to a defamation claim who simply denies publication
ought to be very careful not to use the trial as an opportunity to
impugn the plaintiff's character and reputation. To do so is
irrelevant to the pleaded defence, unjustifiable and improper.
Amanatidis emphasises the importance of sticking to one's
pleadings in a defamation matter, especially in the context of a
"bare denial" defence.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Peter Sise explores how your contractual clause for recovery of legal costs might not do what you think it does.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).