Surprise high-profile witness to be called for Ben Roberts-Smith in defamation trial

A highly-respected Australian icon will be a witness for former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith in a defamation trial, a court has been told. Read at the Daily Telegraph

Quentin Bryce, then governor-general, awards the Victoria Cross for Australia to Ben Roberts-Smith at Campbell Barracks in Perth on January 23, 2011. Picture: Department of Defence

Former governor-general Quentin Bryce will speak for Ben Roberts-Smith in a defamation trial centring on allegations he committed war crimes, a court has been told.

Australia’s first female governor-general, the highly respected Dame Bryce AC, will be called as a reputation witness in the June trial, Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyer revealed in the Federal Court on Friday.

Dame Bryce pinned Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross – the highest award possible in Australia – to his uniform in 2011.

Since then one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers, regularly called a war hero, has become embroiled in a series of shocking allegations aired in the media – which he denies.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers – the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age – for defamation over articles that said the AFP was investigating allegations he was involved in killing six Afghans outside of combat while deployed in the Middle East.

The allegations include that he pushed a handcuffed farmer off a cliff.

The newspapers also alleged he was being investigated for punching a woman in the face in Australia in 2018.

In a pre-trial hearing in front of Justice Anthony Besanko, Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyer Bruce McClintock SC said he would call reputation witnesses as part of the case, including Dame Bryce.

He also said Mr Roberts-Smith “actually wants” to get in the witness box and give his account of what happened in Afghanistan.

“He’s looking forward to it,” Mr McClintock said.

Other witnesses to be called in the trial will give evidence over audiovisual link from locations including four witnesses to appear from Kabul in Afghanistan, and one to appear from the Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste.

Meanwhile, Justice Besanko on Friday refused an application by Nine newspapers to add material to their defence.

The newspapers will use the “truth defence” against the defamation claim, which means they will have to prove in court that what they reported about Mr Roberts-Smith was “substantially true”.

They had previously applied to amend their defence submissions with new material that they said included additional allegations, the contents of which have not been made public.

But this was refused on Friday by Justice Besanko, who said he was not in a position to provide reasons for his decision in open court due to national security considerations.

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