McLachlan's defamation trial delayed

Craig McLachlan has been allowed to delay his defamation case while he fights criminal charges.
Craig McLachlan has been allowed to delay his defamation case while he fights criminal charges.

Craig McLachlan has successfully delayed his defamation action against two media outlets and a former co-star while the actor fights assault and indecency charges in Victoria.

The actor in 2018 launched proceedings against Fairfax Media, the ABC and Christie Whelan Browne over articles and reports claiming he bullied and indecently assaulted her and two other female cast members during a 2014 production of The Rocky Horror Show.

The defamation trial was due to begin before a jury in February.

But in the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday, Justice Lucy McCallum granted McLachlan a stay in proceedings after the criminal charges were laid against him interstate.

The former Neighbours star faces the possibility of jail time after he was charged in Victoria last week with eight counts of indecent assault, common law assault and attempted indecent assault.

"Craig is innocent of these charges which will be vigorously defended," a spokesman for the actor said at the time.

Justice McCallum in granting the stay said McLachlan's right to the privilege against self-incrimination - with the potential prejudice each proceeding could cause to the other - should prevail.

She said it would be very hard for a potential jury in a Victorian criminal trial to put aside whatever finding the NSW jury made in the defamation proceedings.

If McLachlan was cross-examined during the defamation hearing, it could become a feature of any cross-examination of him in a criminal trial, the judge said.

ABC and Whelan Browne had opposed a stay with their barrister, Tom Blackburn SC, arguing the defamation trial might not start until 2021 if they waited for the Victorian case to be resolved.

He said Whelan Browne had been subject to "very public allegations that she is a liar, a fabricator".

It wasn't just a matter of stress and anxiety for her, but a situation where her reputation was at stake too, Mr Blackburn said.

However, McLachlan's barrister Stuart Littlemore QC argued that if the defamation trial kicked off in February it would be "a full dress rehearsal on a lower onus of proof".

"The respondent is not entitled to go first to run a full dress rehearsal - or, to preserve the metaphor, a sneak preview - where it raises real issues of injustice," Mr Littlemore said.

McLachlan's criminal case is due in Melbourne Magistrates Court on February 8.

Australian Associated Press