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Rush defamation trial takes late twist as Daily Telegraph seeks to produce ‘vital’ evidence from ‘Miss X’

The Geoffrey Rush defamation trial has taken a dramatic late twist after the Daily Telegraph launched an 11th hour bid to produce a new witness with fresh allegations.

Referred to only as ‘witness X’ following a suppression order by Justice Wigney not to reveal their identity, Telegraph counsel Tom Blackburn SC told Sydney Federal Court that “vital evidence” had emerged.

But it sparked an exasperated response from Justice Wigney.

If the 85-page affidavit from the witness is allowed – an affidavit which contains an “entirely new set of allegations” – it will delay the case for six months and heap further uncertainty on Rush, he said.

Blackburn argued the new evidence went to the “heart” of the imputations that Rush engaged in “inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”.

Eryn Jean Norvill, the actress at the centre of the defamation trial, was in court to hear proceedings, as was Rush.

During submissions and legal arguments, it emerged that ‘witness X’ – sometimes referred to in court as ‘Miss X’- indicated late last week they “might be prepared to give evidence”.

“This is vital evidence, it goes to the very heart of the matter,” Blackburn said.

He acknowledged it was “far from ideal” to seek an amended application so late in proceedings but stressed the respondents had acted as quickly as possible.

To reject the application would undermine public confidence in the judicial system, Blackburn said.

Kieran Smark SC, representing Rush in the Telegraph’s application, urged Justice Wigney to reject it, arguing it demonstrated “further harrying of Mr Rush”.

He also told the court the Telegraph had “pestered Miss X since the start of the proceedings”.

A visibly frustrated and irritated Justice Wigney snapped that to allow the application would require the current trial to be adjourned for six month with judicial commitments precluding him from presiding over any new proceedings unti April.

In addition, the mystery witness would not be available until February.

Any new hearing would include an “entirely new set of allegations and an entirely new set of witnesses”, Justice Wigney said and require Rush to be recalled to give evidence.

He added it would cause “egregious prejudice on Mr Rush and his family”, affect his health and impact him “economically and commercially”.

Justice Wigney

These are “people’s lives”, he said, adding “there are no winners.”

During one exchange between Justice Wigney and Blackburn, Justice Wigney snapped: “Your clients chose to publish.”

“Yes, and maybe it’s true,” Blackburn responded.

“Maybe they should have made more enquiries before they published,” Justice Wigney pressed.

Blackburn said the media can’t be expected to locate and speak to every witness before publishing a story.

Responding to Blackburn’s acknowledgment that the situation was “undesirable”, Justice Wigney shot back: “To say it’s undesirable is one of the biggest understatements I have ever heard.

“This is extraordinary.”

Justice Wigney, who later apologised for his irritation, said he will give his decision on whether to allow the new witness “no later than Tuesday”.

The case resumes on Monday.

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