The latest hearing of the Wright v McCormack case took place this week, with the surprise return of Peter McCormack’s legal team for the pre-trial hearing.
The hearing concerned, in part, the unresolved motions from a hearing last November. Lawyers for Dr. Wright were hoping to resolve the case at that hearing following the news that McCormack would no longer be defending the lawsuit, but a discrepancy between the initial claim form and subsequent filings meant that the request had to be delayed until this week.
However, in the meantime, McCormack has decided to resume part of his defense, filing 1000s of pages of evidence from third party sources which echo the sentiments contained in the publications McCormack is currently being sued for. Lawyers for McCormack also sought the High Court’s permission to re-amend his defense to the lawsuit. McCormack is seeking to withdraw his defenses of truth (i.e. that his statements that Dr. Wright is fraudulently claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto are true), public interest (that making his statements was in the public interest) and abuse of process (that Dr. Wright’s entire claim against him is abusive of the court’s time and process); McCormack is also seeking to revise and supplement his defense against Dr. Wright’s claim for aggravated damages in order to enable him to rely on evidence—published by third parties—which he claims shows that Dr. Wright’s reputation was not capable of being serious harmed by him or, else that others made equally damaging statements about Dr. Wright at the same time as him.
Barrister Adam Wolanski QC, representing Dr. Wright, made submissions on Tuesday, most of which concerned the admissibility of these documents and certain portions of McCormack’s proposed re-amended defense. Catrin Evans QC made submissions on behalf of McCormack on Thursday.
Admissibility of prior third party publication turns on application of Associated Newspapers v Dingle, which ruled that a defendant to a defamation claim may not use other publications containing the same or substantially the same allegations as evidence in assessing injury to reputation. Therefore, Dr. Wright’s lawyers argue that they are inadmissible.
Ms. Evans argued for McCormack that Dingle does not apply if the claimant is relying on specific consequences to show harm caused by the defendant’s publication. In those instances it is a question of causation (which publication caused the event complained of) and outside the scope of Dingle.
Similarly, Dr. Wright argued against certain paragraphs in McCormack’s draft re-amended defense. The latest version includes various renewed attacks on Dr. Wright’s credibility, including comments about alleged failures on Dr. Wright’s part to prove his identity as Satoshi Nakamoto. Given that McCormack has already abandoned his truth defense, these kinds of submissions are irrelevant to the trial as it currently stands. Dr. Wright also objected to similar passages on the basis that they breached the Dingle principle—in other words, including reference to prior publications or previously ‘widely held’ views.
McCormack’s response on this point was hindered by complaints from the Judge, Mr. Justice Julian Knowles, that each party’s exact position in relation to each item in McCormack’s proposed re-amended defense was unclear. He asked the parties to submit a clearer document by the end of February 24.
The outcome of these matters will have a large impact on the trial. Mr. Wolanski said that Dr. Wright will drop his claim for aggravated damages if either McCormack concedes the point regarding the application of Dingle or the Court agrees that that evidence is inadmissible and should be excluded. Should that happen, the trial would be significantly simplified and shortened, including possibly avoiding what would now be extensive cross-examination of McCormack in relation to the new material.
The Court reserved judgment until a later date, following which the length of the trial will be determined and a trial date subsequently set.
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