Esther Rockett (centre) leaves Sydney Supreme Court with solicitor Stewart O'Connell and barrister Tom Molomby after the final hearing in the defamation case brought against her by Universal Medicine leader Serge Benhayon.
Esther Rockett (centre) leaves Sydney Supreme Court with solicitor Stewart O'Connell and barrister Tom Molomby after the final hearing in the defamation case brought against her by Universal Medicine leader Serge Benhayon. Liana Turner

'Bullying and harassment' used by UM against blogger

UNIVERSAL Medicine founder Serge Benhayon will have to pay blogger Esther Rockett costs on an indemnity basis.

Judge Julia Lonergan yesterday handed down her final judgements on the failed defamation case Mr Benhayon brought against Ms Rockett, a former client.

During the trial, the Supreme Court jury found Mr Benhayon was "the leader of a socially harmful cult".

Judge Lonergan has ordered Mr Benhayon to "pay the defendant's costs of and incidental to the proceedings on an indemnity basis".

She has dismissed an application for Ms Rockett to be able to use documents discovered during the case to lobby regulatory bodies for potential action against UM.

In addition to this, Judge Lonergan said she would hear submissions "as to why I should not refer Universal Law (the legal firm representing UM) to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for investigation in respect of the conduct raised (in the case)" on March 6.

Judge Lonergan found correspondence sent to Ms Rockett by the firm, which was representing Mr Benhayon, when her father was ill, then passed away, to be "troubling".

This included a 31-page letter emailed to Ms Rockett on the day of her father's funeral, which Judge Lonergan said was "at best, unprofessional and most discourteous"

"They are at worst, bullying and harassment, deliberately deployed at a time when the defendant is likely to be distracted, sad and vulnerable, with the aim of demoralising her about the litigation she was defending," Judge Lonergan said.

Mr Benhayon first brought proceedings against Ms Rockett on November 9, 2015 and after a number of settlement offers which resulted in a stalemate, a trial before a jury began on September 3 last year.

"On 15 October 2018, the jury delivered answers to a series of questions, the effect of which was to make findings overwhelmingly in the defendant's favour," Judge Lonergan said.

"In particular, the defence of truth was made out to all but four of the imputations, and in respect of these remaining four, contextual truth was found to apply to one of them, honest opinion to apply to every imputation except one, and statutory qualified privilege to apply to every imputation."

"It was, for the defendant, a comprehensive victory and for the plaintiff, a comprehensive defeat."

Mr Benhayon's barrister, Nicholas Olson, had agreed to a costs order being made, but argued in a hearing last December this should not be made on an indemnity basis.

Judge Lonergan concluded, however, that "early resolution of the proceedings was hindered, and in fact made impossible, by the attitude of the plaintiff to settlement offers".

Ms Rockett had made an application to be able to use discovered documents - which were not tendered as evidence - to lobby for potential regulatory action against UM.

These documents included submissions made by Universal Medicine to MPs and statutory bodies, attendance records to Universal Medicine workshops, recordings of EDG sessions and healing workshops, and training manuals for UM's healing modalities and workshops.

Ms Rockett's barrister, Tom Molomby, said it was a concern that "regulatory bodies had not been quick off the mark or easy to persuade in terms of the need to investigate" complaints, Judge Lonergan said.

But she accepted Mr Olson's submission that "the purposes for which the defendant seeks to use the discovered material do not amount to special circumstances".

Judge Lonergan said documents which were admitted into evidence - and therefore would not require such an application - would be "easily sufficient to prompt and/or pursue regulatory authorities to investigate and if appropriate, take action against the activities of the plaintiff and Universal Medicine".

Ms Rockett's lawyer, Stewart O'Connell of O'Brien's Criminal & Civil Solicitors said his firm was "proud" of their client's "resilience" and pleased with her "vindication".

"One overwhelming outcome of this case is that it has been made very clear that Esther Rockett has suffered significant and oppressive bullying for speaking the truth," Mr O'Connell said.