Ben Roberts-Smith trial in chaos as the judge SUSPENDS hearing because of multiple Covid lockdowns
War hero Ben Roberts-Smith’s high-profile defamation trial has been suspended because of Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Mr Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing three newspapers at the Federal Court trial in Sydney over media reports alleging he was involved in war crimes, murders and bullying in Afghanistan.
He is also suing the outlets over a claim he assaulted a woman in a Canberra hotel.
The landmark trial, now in its fourth week, was due to this week hear the media outlets’ defence case after Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal team wrapped up its case on Monday afternoon.
However barrister Nicholas Owens SC flagged on Monday that SAS witnesses – crucial to the respondents’ case – were unavailable due to border rules in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.
Options to progress the trial include a month-long adjournment or to hear from Afghanistan-based witnesses next week, the court was told.
Justice Anthony Besanko is expected to decide on a course of action for proceedings on Tuesday morning.
The trial has previously been told there will be testimonial evidence from 21 current and former SAS members as well as several Afghan villagers.
On Monday former Liberal politician and Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson gave evidence as a reputational witness for Mr Roberts-Smith, saying the soldier had been held in high regard by so many people.
‘He was the subject and object of what I would regard as reverential mobs,’ Dr Nelson said.
The media reports had a devastating impact, he added.
Other notable witnesses set to testify include federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and Mr Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife Emma Roberts.
The trial was expected to run for 10 weeks before the recent COVID-19 disruption complicated matters.
Mr Roberts-Smith denies all the claims against him while the news outlets defend them on the basis of truth.
The former SAS operator’s legal team argue their client is a victim of a lying campaign by journalists and failed soldiers jealous of his stellar military career and Victoria Cross.