Court rules former ministry worker can sue

By Amelia Romanos

Former Ministry of the Environment employee Erin Leigh has won the right to sue her former manager for defamation. Photo / file
Former Ministry of the Environment employee Erin Leigh has won the right to sue her former manager for defamation. Photo / file

A former Environment Ministry worker whose competence was questioned by former Cabinet Minister Trevor Mallard has won the right to sue her former manager for defamation.

Erin Leigh quit her job as a public relations contractor in 2006 when Clare Curran, now a Labour MP, was appointed as her superior on the recommendation of then-Labour Climate Change Minister David Parker.

Ms Leigh later claimed Ms Curran's appointment amounted to political interference in what was supposed to be a neutral ministry.

Responding to questions in Parliament about the incident, Mr Mallard described Ms Leigh as a "sad" individual and an incompetent worker.

While Mr Mallard's comments were protected by parliamentary privilege, Ms Leigh took action against the ministry and its then deputy secretary Lindsay Gow, alleging comments about her in written and oral briefings to Mr Mallard were defamatory.

In 2009, the High Court found the ministry briefing paper was not capable of conveying any defamatory meaning, but the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling in January.

In a decision released today, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal's ruling, saying public servants assisting ministers to answer Parliamentary questions were not covered by absolute privilege.

- APNZ

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