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Donations for freedom of speech

  • June 8th, 2012

If you support Judith Collin's defamation law suit, you can make that support practical. Call my  work 04 815 8050 and ask for Angela or me. Once satisfied you are not  a bot we'll give you a bank number for a lawyer's trust account  that will accept donations. Further terms are at the end of this post.

Why support a defamation action?

 For simple reasons:

  • Passionate belief in freedom of speech;
  • That freedom will not survive if abusers of the freedom face no cost;
  • Licencing and other preventative powers to protect reputations will be abused;
  • Governments would abuse general powers to punish for lying after the fact. They'd call unfashionable or unwelcome free speech lying;
  • After the fact defamation lawsuits, where truth is a complete defence, are a safe and sufficient deterrent and a remedy for calculated lying. 

I do not know whether Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little (both of whom I respect) made false statements about Judith Collins. If they were false I do not know whether they were calculated, reckless or just careless. That will be for a court to determine. But I do know they are scoffing at defamation law. They might fairly complain that they've been mislead into that – our indulgent and indulged court system has effectively made many rights unenforceable for all but the rich (and the very poor who can get legal aid).

Perhaps only mugs now worry about accuracy in political mudslinging.  Defamation law was wounded when judges changed the law so that politicians became fair game for careless falsehood. David Lange was deprived of his right to vindication by that judicial activism. Journalists rightly hate defamation law nevertheless because it provides no protection against those who file baseless gagging actions, relying on a publisher's fear of uncompensated legal costs even with complete victory.

But flaws can be readily repaired. Until then I support defamation law because the alternatives are worse.

Defamation law is the safeguard against false coin in the competitive marketplace of ideas. A Gresham's law may apply in public debate, where unpunishable recklessness, and scandalous accusation would crowd out sober truth.  An assumption that usually you can trust what someone is telling you, and particularly your leaders or would-be leaders, is a vital element of social capital. New Zealand is currently a high trust country according the the World Values Survey.

High profile defamation cases remind casual liars they could pay a price help to preserve our trust in the honesty of others until proved otherwise. So proceedings that keep open the threat of a cost for reckless allegations are in the public interest.

Contesting for power and influence with words instead of force was the shining goal of the thousands who've died for free speech. I'd rather pay money to protect that freedom than the coin they paid.

Why support this case?

A good lawyer gives up a lot to serve in elected office but she should not be expected to sacrifice a reputation for honesty. Judith Collins is not wealthy. The action she has launched could cost her anything up to $150k to take to conclusion. 

You may have other reasons for contributing. You may be grateful for Judith Collins' plain speaking. You may just not like Labour tactics. Whatever your motive, a contribution will help uphold the integrity of communication currency in the marketplace of ideas.


The money will earn interest in a trust account of Barnettlaw Limited in Wellington. Paul Barnett will have sole operating rights on that account. He will release it to the lawyers for the Hon Judith Collins at my direction, when I am satisfied that it will defray costs properly incurred in the proceedings. Any amounts not required for that purpose or recouped on success, will be offered back to the donors in the proportions of their respective contributions. After meeting any nominal administration costs of Barnettlaw any sum remaining will go to a charity with objectives that I consider consistent with the objectives of the fund.

None of Paul Barnett, I or any donor (by virtue of a donation) will have any control over the lawsuit, or get net benefit from it in any way. Subject to the inspection requirements for lawyers' trust accounts, we will not tell the MInister or anyone else who has contributed, or the amounts involved.

Lawyers' trust account regulations require that we record the names of contributors, but they will remain confidential.



Good on you for supporting your principles, Stephen, but Collins is the MP who has pushed through legislation making it mandatory for the media to disclose their sources to SFO.  A journalist's ability to protect their sources is a fundamental protection of free speech, which Collins knows as much about, therefore, as this National government know about limited government.

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