Labour MP and former leader Andrew Little is back in court today as his lawyer battles to have an appeal against him in an ongoing defamation case thrown out.

Little sat in the back of the Court of Appeal in Wellington as lawyer John Tizard argued for the case to be dropped, on the grounds that the appellant had died.

A trial earlier this year came to a close with the jurors unable to reach a verdict on several of the claims against him.

The jury was considering six separate incidents which hotelier Earl Hagaman and his wife Lani claimed were defamatory of them - one was a press release and the others comments Little made in media interviews.


They related to a $100,000 donation from Earl Hagaman to the National Party in 2014 and a hotel management contract at the Matavai resort in Niue for the Hagaman's Scenic Circle Group which was awarded a month later.

The jury found by a majority verdict that Little had defamed Mr Hagaman in one instance - an interview in a 1 News broadcast - but was unable to decide whether Little had ceded his defence of qualified privilege so did not go on to consider damages.

It found by majority verdict that another claim was not defamatory and another was defamatory, but not of Mr Hagaman. It was unable to decide whether the remaining three instances were defamatory.

Mrs Hagaman had also claimed she was defamed on the same six occasions, but the jury found by majority verdict that she was not.

Though Mr Hagaman has died since the trial, Mrs Hagaman is pursuing a retrial on his behalf

She was also appealing Justice Karen Clark's decision to grant Andrew Little the defence of qualified privilege - a defence Little said was because of his "moral duty" as leader of the Opposition to question the Government.

Tizard told the judges today this was a no verdict issue.

"There is no verdict and there is not judgment. Death puts an end to that," he said.

Lawyer for the Hagamans, Richard Fowler QC, said Mr Hagaman was still alive when the appeal was filed.

He said the fact there was no answer from the jury did not mean there was not a verdict.

He argued that there was a special verdict given, but Tizard said he did not accept that at all.

He said a special verdict was when a jury was asked to answer a question and the judge then decided other matters based on the jury's finding on that verdict.

"There is not a verdict until the outcome of the issue is decided."

The judges reserved their decision.