Defamation case illustrates importance of observing time limits to preserve litigation rights

31 March 2010 Topics: Litigation and dispute resolution

In Noonan v MacLennan & Anor [2010] QCA 50 the Queensland Court of Appeal prevented defamation litigation from continuing because of a failure to comply with the strict time limits imposed by the Limitations of Actions Act 1974 (Qld) (LAA).

Mr Noonan had started defamation litigation against Mr MacLennan and Mr Hookham as a result of criticisms they made about his QUT PhD thesis. The criticisms were published in the Australian newspaper on 11 April 2007.

Mr Noonan had followed the grievance procedures in the university’s guidelines. The university investigated Mr Noonan’s complaint and those investigations finished on 30 October 2007.

Mr Noonan stated it was not until 5 February 2008 that he decided to proceed with a court case. Mr Noonan started collecting evidence at around this time but did not obtain legal advice until some time after February 2008.

Mr Noonan started the court case on 17 June 2009.

Under the LAA, a case for defamation must be brought within one year of the publication. The LAA does allow a court to extend the time if the court considers that it was not reasonable for the case to be started within that period.

MacLennan and Hookham argued Mr Noonan’s case was out of time because it was started more than a year after publication in the Australian newspaper.

The trial judge allowed the case to proceed. MacLennan and Hookham appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal decided that the defamation case should not proceed because it was brought out of time.

Justice Keane stated that “[m]ere ignorance of the strict time limits fixed by the Act cannot afford a reasonable basis for not complying with them”.

Justice Chesterman stated that even if Mr Noonan believed he was not able to start a court case at the same time as following the university’s guidelines, Mr Noonan had sufficient time to start the case after the university’s investigations were finalised. Mr Noonan made no effort to find out the time limitation while he gathered evidence against MacLennan and Hookham. Therefore, the defamation case was not allowed to continue.

This case highlights the importance of obtaining legal advice on the time limits for commencing not only defamation cases, but also other legal cases.  If legal advice is not promptly sought, there is a possibility a potential case will be out of time and not allowed by the courts.

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