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BlackBay Insights

  • Writer's pictureLauren Kovacic

“Tipping-off” the Press and Defamation: What are your Legal Rights?

In the case of Havas v State of New South Wales [2023] NSWDC 208, his Honour Judge Newlinds DCJ heard an application by the defendant to set aside subpoenas issued by the plaintiff. The plaintiff brought a malicious prosecution claim against the State and issued subpoenas to various journalists and telecommunication providers to discover whether an officer or officers of the New South Wales Police Force had “tipped-off” the press.

His Honour had to determine whether there was a reasonable basis beyond speculation that the documents sought to be produced were likely to assist the plaintiff’s case. His Honour found in the affirmative and dismissed the application. Interestingly however, his Honour made the following observation in passing:

“… on my understanding of the law, there is actually nothing wrong (in the sense of being the basis of a cause of action) with police "tipping‑off" the press. Perhaps it is not considered by some to be a desirable practice, but that is not my understanding of the basis of the cause of action upon which the plaintiff sues”.

While it may be the case that a police officer cannot be sued for “tipping-off” the press, significant reputational harm might be caused as a result of a publication arising from a “tip-off” and the publication might arise irrespective of whether or not you have had your say or advanced your side of the matter.

Indeed, it is often the case that the mere reporting of allegations made against people and any police charges results in serious consequences to someone’s reputation. Subject to the content of the publication and whether or not sufficient care has been taken in describing an active investigation, charges or a matter before the Court, the publication may be defamatory and actionable.

As such, if you become involved in legal proceedings that are likely to attract media attention or have been charged with an offence which is likely to be described in publications by media outlets or on social media platforms, it is important to consider engaging an experienced lawyer practicing in defamation law to help protect and prevent reputational harm suffered or likely to be suffered as a result of the publication(s).

A lawyer will not only be able to advise you on your legal rights but will also be in a position to provide you with strategies to mitigate the effect of any reputational harm caused or likely to be caused by a defamatory publication, whether as a result of a “tip-off” or not. This may involve:

a) applying for any suppression, non-publication or take down orders;

b) advising on the most suitable public relations firm to engage;

c) preparing consistent communications to be shared with relevant media outlets; and

d) if necessary, take steps to issue concerns notice(s) and initiate defamation proceedings.

Our solicitors at BlackBay Lawyers are highly experienced and skilled in the field of defamation law and work closely with various public relations experts. If you are the subject of a defamatory publication that you believe has or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation, please feel free to contact BlackBay Lawyers on 02 9100 0889 or via for a confidential discussion with one of our solicitors.

The content in this Article is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. It should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.


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