The decision by Judith Collins to sue Trevor Mallard, Andrew Little and Radio New Zealand for defamation must be leaving her National Party colleagues shaking their heads.
It is a highly risky move, because if Collins backs down or loses her case, it will potentially destroy her ministerial career.
The ACC scandal seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It’s too early to say that the stink rising up from this mess will bring the government down, but it has the potential to do considerable harm to National.
It it also astounding that Collins would sue a media outlet over this matter. If she and her colleagues had any self-awareness, they would understand that since the “teapot tape” affair the media have turned against John Key’s government. Regardless of Collins’ real motives behind the lawsuit against Radio New Zealand, her actions are bound to be viewed as just another example of National trying to silence the media.
I’m not the defamation law guy (I’m sure Mr Price or Mr Edwards will be along soon), but it’s not entirely clear to me that anything defamatory has been said by either Mallard or Little about Collins. On the other hand, given Collins’ litigious frame of mind, I’m not inclined to repeat anything they said that could potentially be construed as defamatory.
Additionally, the defendants will have potential defences available to them. Moreover, Mallard and Little might use the absolute privilege afforded to legal proceedings as a means of throwing more muck at Collins.
And if Collins wins, what then? I’m not convinced she’ll get an apology from Mallard or Little, and it’s unclear whether she would get a substantial damages award over remarks that seem largely innocuous.
Even if Collins wins she may lose.