Certain circumstances may allow for an ‘extension of time’ to commence defamation proceedings

The Full Federal Court has granted Sydney solicitor, Marcel Joukhador, an extension of time to file a defamation case against Network 10, citing that “facing a serious criminal prosecution” concurrently was a valid reason for not initiating proceedings prior to the limitation period.

Joukhador v Network Ten Pty Ltd [2021] FCAFC 37

Background

Marcel Joukhador was arrested in 2017 at the offices of his law firm with one count of knowingly directing a criminal group and 11 counts of dishonestly obtaining benefit by deception.

On the day of his arrest, Channel Ten published a news story on their page stating that he was guilty of fraud and at the centre of a third-party insurance premiums fraud syndicate.

As a result of his detainment, Joukhador was unaware of the broadcast until he was granted bail. Rather than launching defamation proceedings, he chose to focus his efforts on fighting the criminal charges, as he feared if he may lose his right to practise as a solicitor if he were found guilty.

When his defamation case was heard in the Federal Court on the June 1 2020, Justice Wendy Abraham rejected his application for an extension of time and found that not looking for potential news coverage at the time of Network Ten’s broadcast displayed a “wilful blindness”.

Outcome

This original decision was unanimously overturned by the Full Federal Court in 2021, determining that pursuant to section 56A(2) of the Limitations of Actions Act “it was not reasonable for Mr Joukhador to have commenced the proceeding against Network Ten earlier than he did”.

Joukhador was consequently granted an extension of the limitation period in which to commence the proceeding, up to and including the date of filing of the originating application being 3 October 2019. The respondent was also ordered to pay the appellant’s costs, including the costs of the application for leave to appeal.

The judgement concluded that “the combined effect of ss 14B and 56A of the Limitation Act does not require a person to commence a defamation action within one year of publication at all costs.” The circumstances faced by Joukhador made bringing defamation proceedings earlier than he did unreasonable.

Whilst we await the determination of the defamation proceedings, the criminal charges against Joukhador were dropped in July 2019.

Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell has over 60 years defamation experience acting on behalf of individual plaintiffs including high profile executives, parliamentarians, sporting and public figures and companies in respect of publications published in both electronic and traditional media forums.

Do not hesitate to contact Danielle Snell and/or Robert McGirr in relation to any defamation concerns.

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