No defamation of the dead: Andrew Little wins Hagaman suit  

Andrew Little says he's happy the case has been finalised

RELATED AUDIO: Jason Walls discusses why Lani Hagaman wants her late husband vindicated (Jun 22)

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The Court of Appeal has thrown out an appeal by Earl Hagaman’s estate against Labour MP Andrew Little on the basis that dead people can't be defamed.

The late hotelier, Earl Hagaman, had started proceedings back in 2016 after Mr Little made statements that drew a connection between Mr Hagaman’s donations to the National Party and that his hotel chain had received Niue government funding, which ultimately came from New Zealand government aid.

In the High Court at Wellington a 12-person jury found Mr Little defamed Mr Hagaman on one occasion and not on others but was hung on whether he was protected by privilege. The jury had found in favour of Mr Little in relation to the claims about Mr Hagaman’s wife, Lani.

As it could not agree, the jury did not consider whether damages should be paid but there could be a new trial for the undecided counts or the judge may make a ruling.

An appeal was filed in relation to some of the claims in April this year but Mr Hagaman died in May. His personal representatives were substituted as appellants.

The Court of Appeal, in a decision delivered by president Justice Stephen Kos, said it had to decide whether the jury’s answer about a particular part of the suit – the second cause of action – amounted to a verdict. This was because whether any defamation appeal right existed depended on whether there was a verdict.

“It follows that no verdict was given on the second cause of action. It, therefore, abates with the death of Mr Hagaman. No appeal may now be advanced upon it. As the whole of the appeal is confined to that cause of action, it also follows that the appeal itself must be dismissed.”

In a statement the new minister for justice said: “Mr Little is pleased the matter has been finalised. There will be no further comment.”

A representative for Ms Hagaman has been contacted for comment.

Scenic Circle founder Mr Hagaman had started in partnership with friend Ralph Brown in 1980 when they bought their first hotel on the South Island’s West Coast – the 48-room Graham Motor Inn, now the 130-room Scenic Hotel Franz Josef.

Today Scenic Circle owns and manages 18 good-quality hotels, stretching from Paihia in the far north, to Gore and Queenstown, and the South Pacific in Tonga and Niue.

Read the full decision here.

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13 Comments & Questions

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My mum in-law just texted me.... 'Andrew should go out right now and buy himself a Lotto ticket'

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First bauble for the Minister of Justice. Many more to come .

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Justice prevailed for the Minister of Justice

More harm than good was done for old Earl by proceeding with a very marginal case

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Would be good to see some justice done re Todd Barclay and National seeming to have handed out taxpayer funds to hush up a crime. Alas... what can the justice system do when a perpetrator refuses to talk to the police? Nothing, apparently.

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I understand Little was actually found to have defamed Hagaman by the Jury.
And that he avoided consequences because there was doubt whether he had qualified preference.
So if that is correct we appear to have a somewhat injudicious Minister of Justice.

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In April a jury was unanimous that Andrew Little had not defamed Lani Hagaman but found the then-Labour leader had defamed Earl Hagaman on one occasion but not others. It was hung on the issue of whether he was protected by privilege. No damages were awarded and Justice Karen Clark held her decision for further argument - which is where we came in today.

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Notwithstanding whether Little was guilty or not I find it deeply disturbing that someone could possibly defame someone and escape punishment in the event of that person subsequently dying.

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That's the law because the dead no longer have reputations in legal terms. I think Lani's only hope, if she wants to continue is to try and say some of what she alleges to be defamatory reflects on her and defames her by association. Interestingly Scotland had consulted on changing the law allowing defamation for the dead but its unclear whether there were any changes. 

 

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The law is an Ass.

So one can now say and write that one of the dead exPMs was a sexual predator and peodophile (with no basis) with no legal ramification?

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The ramification is others pointing out you're an idiot making silly statements.

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No reputable media platform would print such an allegation without proof. Possibly weird grievance bloggers might … But this has been the law for a long time – it is not new.

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As a matter of interest, who would be considered as a 'weird grievance blogger'?

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We are luckily fairly free of them in New Zealand, but there are plenty of examples of newspapers around the world which do not qualify as a "reputable media platform". I doubt that the responsibility of journalists can be relied on to prevent damage to the reputations of the dead in a world where the media are dependent upon conveying readers to advertisers for income.

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