Jeff Sher interview 18 November 2009
I'd like to talk about one very well-known defamation case, which is in 1992 when the Herald Sun newspaper published an article about the former Victorian Police Commissioner Kel Glare. An article which he believed was defamatory
Well, there was no doubt it was defamatory.
Well, you acted for Mr Glare and...
He was accused of corruption.
Yes, well you told the jury, "this is the most serious libel anyone could ever publish about any person anywhere in the world" and this was subsequently described as a "carefully understated" opening.
Well, I'm going to have to plead guilty to that, but Kel Glare was a terrific fellow and as an honest a policeman as you're likely to find. It was a terrible defamation. I mean, it was an editorial, it wasn't just some journalist in an aside - it was an editorial in the Herald in effect accusing Kel Glare of corruption. Well, it was pretty serious.
You were mentioning about the human drama and the emotion aspect and I think there was a point in the trial where Kel Glare, when he stood up, was clenching his jaw and trying to prevent himself from tears or something like that. But then there was a similar response from the - how would you describe him, well we're really talking about Piers Ackerman aren't we? - the editor of the Herald Sun who wrote that editorial. He got up and put on a similar bravura performance, I believe.
Piers is not a man who was disposed to apologise even when he was clearly in the wrong. The case really was an assessment, but it was made better for the plaintiff as cases often are by being defended. If the case had run through like Jeff Kennett's case did, in a matter of a day or two, the result would have been a much more modest one.
Yes, emotions were running high in other ways. I believe another Victorian Bar legend, the late Neil McPhee QC was appearing for the Herald Sun and there's an interesting anecdote about you, McPhee and some biros.
Well, this story has been told and retold and embellished many times and in the course of dealing with what was a minor spat between Neil and me, Frank Vincent (who was the trial judge), referred to feeling like a lion tamer. That's been given a fair bit of airtime too, that particular comment, but I'll tell you what happened. It's very simple. I was cross-examining Piers Ackerman and Piers was making a mess of things as one might expect, and Neil (who was a great tactician) decided (that) some diversionary tactics were in order. His brief comprised of a foolscap folder and you know how you can take a bundle of papers in a folder and flop them over and they make a bit of a noise. Well, Neil decided perhaps for the first time to read his brief, so he's flopping over the brief and going on and on and making this heck of a racket, so I just stopped and looked at him and the jury saw me looking at Neil and Neil suddenly realised he was the focus of attention, so he stopped and I continued on. Well, over lunchtime, Neil had obviously decided on a different diversionary tactic. He came back into court after lunch with about five or six biros in his pocket which he then proceeded after a short pause to click, and I'm standing there trying to cross-examine and Neil's clicking away on all these biros so I looked at the judge and said, "he's at it again". That was what happened and so Neil sat down, Neil protested his innocence and what-have-you.
They said that you looked like a demonic character straight out of Wuthering Heights when you said, "he's doing it again, he's doing it again!"
Probably true. Neil and I were protagonists over a lengthy period. We did a lot of cases against each other, he was a terrific advocate and a great opponent and I really enjoyed being against him. It was really like a couple of mates having a sort of a fun brawl. That's all; it wasn't serious.
Conducted for the Victorian Bar oral history project by Juliette Brodsky, and filmed by Stewart Carter on 18 November 2009