Spurr v Matilda: settled on confidential terms….appropriate in the circumstances

December 8, 2014 |

The Federal Court proceeding of Professor Barry Spurr v At Large Media Pty Ltd ACN 144 75 316 & Anor  has resolved today.

The Court per Wigney made the following orders by consent:

BY CONSENT THE COURT ORDERS THAT:

  1.  The First and Second Respondents be restrained for further using, publishing and/or disclosing the contents and/or substance of any email to or from the Applicant which is in the possession, custody or control of the First and/or Second Respondents without the Applicant’s express written authority.
  2.  The names and identities of the individuals referred to in paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17 of the Applicant’s affidavit sworn 21 October 2014 not be published.
  3. Any document (including the Applicant’s emails) revealing the identity or name of any individual addressed or referred to in the Applicant’s emails, including (but not limited to) the individuals names at paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17 of the Applicant’s affidavit sworn 21 October 2014 may only be distributed or disclosed to the legal representatives of the parties.
  4. The proceedings otherwise be dismissed, with each party to pay his or its own costs.

Any thoughts or hopes that this case would advance the law of privacy and confidentiality or just provide some judicial guidance on the operation of the Privacy Act have evaporated. Probably for the better.  It was not the best vehicle for an exposition on the law of privacy in general and the Privacy Act in particular.  As the orders make clear, both sides seem to be equally happy/unhappy in  achieving their initial, if not core, aims.

The Guardian has a fairly good piece on the conclusion, at least of Round 1, in Barry Spurr reaches deal over New Matilda’s publication of leaked emails which provides:

Federal court told the suspended University of Sydney professor reached a confidential agreement with the website’s editor in which the source’s anonymity was protected

A suspended University of Sydney professor has reached a confidential agreement with an independent news website over the publication of racist and sexist emails sent from his work account.

Barry Spurr took New Matilda to the federal court demanding the emails be returned to him, that no further correspondence was published and that the emails published on the news website would be taken down.

He had originally sought to have the source of the emails revealed but dropped that bid in October.

The federal court heard on Monday that the two parties had reached a confidential agreement. The only condition of the agreement which has been revealed is that the anonymity of the source of the emails was protected.

The editor of New Matilda, Chris Graham, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

“We’re very happy and relieved, the federal court can be scary at the best of times and we’re very grateful an agreement has been reached,” he told Guardian Australia after the hearing.

Spurr, the chair in poetry at the University of Sydney, was suspended from his post after emails he had sent over the past two years revealed him referring to the prime minister as an “Abo lover”, describing other people as “mussies” and “chinky poos” and mocking the Australian of the year, Adam Goodes.

In his submission to court, Spurr repeated his argument that the emails were a “whimsical” word game with colleagues and friends. He argued New Matilda was in possession of “stolen” information as he did not believe the emails were forwarded to the news site, but rather hacked.

Spurr was a “special consultant” on the government’s curriculum review, in which he recommended that the English curriculum place more emphasis on western literature and said Indigenous culture had little impact on Australia’s literature.

New Matilda originally posted extracts from the emails, later adding transcripts under the headline: “The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist.”

Spurr won a temporary injunction against New Matilda publishing any further emails or stories related to them in October and New Matilda agreed to extend the injunction until the hearing had concluded.

Justice Michael Wigney heard the case and congratulated the two parties on reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.

One Response to “Spurr v Matilda: settled on confidential terms….appropriate in the circumstances”

  1. Spurr v Matilda: settled on confidential terms….appropriate in the circumstances | Australian Law Blogs

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