Victory for Australia’s former vice chancellor who sued French lawyer who called him ‘failure’

Shane Rattenbury, the Minister for Small Business and Consumer Affairs in Canberra, filed a defamation action last month against a corporate lawyer in France who he said had posted a tweet linking him to a sex scandal at the University of Canberra. Rattenbury sued the Twitter user under article 9 of the French criminal code, which punishes defamation, in a court in Brussels that allows a fine up to 1,500 euros or five years imprisonment.

But a Dutch court ruled that the defendant, Marie-Sophie Arseneau-Laitre, should post a public apology in the public media and apologize for the “inaccurate accusations,” according to the Associated Press. The court also fined her 10,000 euros. Ms. Arseneau-Laitre told the AP she regrets what she said.

Mr. Rattenbury served as vice chancellor of the University of Canberra until it was effectively shut down by an abrupt cut of its funding from the government last year. One of the people who was cut off from her university funding was Jeff Kennett, the former governor-general and a prominent campaigner for education reform.

An investigation into the University of Canberra by Australia’s chief information officer found that some of its books and its computer systems were blocked from electronic access by the National Library of Australia, where Mr. Kennett ran it for many years. The purpose of the block, said Mr. Kennett, is likely to prevent students and staff from accessing files on the institution’s computers that detail how the book blocking happened and how it was carried out. He described it as a “classic password violation.”

Mr. Kennett, who is suing the library for 5 million Australian dollars (about $3.2 million) for “proprietary rights” to the information that was blocked, said that it was first reported last year by a Channel 7 television program.

After Channel 7 notified the University of Canberra of the incident, it hired a private investigator to report about it to the police. The National Library then began considering its rights to block access to the university’s computers and computer files.

Yasmin Shariff, a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it was “highly unusual for a small claim like this to proceed into the European courts.” Mr. Kennett said he “had no interest in attacking French justice” but conceded that his image as a man of letters was far less tarnished in France than in Australia.


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