Decorated former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers over reports airing allegations he had committed war crimes in Afghanistan and punched a woman in Australia.
Decorated former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers over reports airing allegations he had committed war crimes in Afghanistan and punched a woman in Australia.

Surprise witness for Ben Roberts-Smith

Former governor-general Quentin Bryce will speak for Ben Roberts-Smith in a defamation trial centring on allegations he committed war crimes, a court has been told.

Australia's first female governor-general, the highly respected Dame Bryce AC, will be called as a reputation witness in the June trial, Mr Roberts-Smith's lawyer revealed in the Federal Court on Friday.

Dame Bryce pinned Mr Roberts-Smith's Victoria Cross - the highest award possible in Australia - to his uniform in 2011.

Quentin Bryce, then governor-general, awards the Victoria Cross for Australia to Ben Roberts-Smith at Campbell Barracks in Perth on January 23, 2011. Picture: Department of Defence
Quentin Bryce, then governor-general, awards the Victoria Cross for Australia to Ben Roberts-Smith at Campbell Barracks in Perth on January 23, 2011. Picture: Department of Defence

Since then one of Australia's most decorated soldiers, regularly called a war hero, has become embroiled in a series of shocking allegations aired in the media - which he denies.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers - the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age - for defamation over articles that said the AFP was investigating allegations he was involved in killing six Afghans outside of combat while deployed in the Middle East.

The allegations include that he pushed a handcuffed farmer off a cliff.

The newspapers also alleged he was being investigated for punching a woman in the face in Australia in 2018.

In a pre-trial hearing in front of Justice Anthony Besanko, Mr Roberts-Smith's lawyer Bruce McClintock SC said he would call reputation witnesses as part of the case, including Dame Bryce.

Dame Quentin Bryce will be called as a reputation witness for Ben Roberts-Smith in an upcoming defamation trial initiated by the former soldier. Picture: Supplied
Dame Quentin Bryce will be called as a reputation witness for Ben Roberts-Smith in an upcoming defamation trial initiated by the former soldier. Picture: Supplied

He also said Mr Roberts-Smith "actually wants" to get in the witness box and give his account of what happened in Afghanistan.

"He's looking forward to it," Mr McClintock said.

Meanwhile, Justice Besanko on Friday refused an application by Nine newspapers to add material to their defence.

The newspapers will use the "truth defence" against the defamation claim, which means they will have to prove in court that what they reported about Mr Roberts-Smith was "substantially true".

Ben Roberts-Smith is ‘looking forward’ to taking to the witness box in the defamation trial he has brought against the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
Ben Roberts-Smith is ‘looking forward’ to taking to the witness box in the defamation trial he has brought against the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.

They had previously applied to amend their defence submissions with new material that they said included additional allegations, the contents of which have not been made public.

But this was refused on Friday by Justice Besanko, who said he was not in a position to provide reasons for his decision in open court due to national security considerations.

Originally published as Surprise witness for Ben Roberts-Smith



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