Thursday, 16 April 2015

Endorsements and Credibility

Using a cross-examination technique in relation to a peripheral lie, we can see the impact inconsistent statements made as a result of a paid blind endorsement can have on the reputation of the maker of those inconsistent statements.

The Utility of a Peripheral Lie
In my cross-examination article I discussed how a peripheral lie can be used to challenge the credibility of a witness:
“A provable peripheral lie is a good friend when you are seeking to dismantle the credibility of a witness. If the witness is prepared to lie about something unimportant, then they are definitely prepared to lie about the crucial matters of the case, is how the argument goes.”

Inconsistent Statements
In Bilal & Omar [2015] FamCAFC 30 (27 February 2015) relevantly Bryant CJ, Murphy and Loughnan JJ at para [43] considered the issue of credibility of the wife.
  • The wife’s affidavit deposes, and the solicitor’s certificate attests, that the wife has received advice of a certain kind.
  • In defending the husband’s case, the wife clearly asserted in the witness box a position entirely inconsistent with that.
  • Put simply, the wife put squarely into issue whether the advice required under s 90G had in fact been given.

At para [54] the Court agreed with the contentions of the husband that on the evidence adverse credit findings in respect of the wife were appropriate.

Blind Endorsements
ABC science commentator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (“Dr Karl”) agreed to and did appear in a number of advertisements promoting the Intergenerational Report (“IGR”) of the Federal Government. He subsequently acknowledged he was only able to read parts of that Report before he agreed to the advertisements as the rest of the Report was under embargo by the Federal Government. The advertisements appeared without a disclosure that Dr Karl was endorsing a Report he had not read.

Once the public became aware of the contents of the Report, that it was a flawed, partisan political document, which Dr Karl acknowledged “largely ignores the impact of climate change”, there was an outcry as to the aforementioned endorsement and promotion by Dr Karl.

Dr Karl then sought to distance himself from his prior support for and endorsement of the Report.

Dr Karl knew or ought to have known the significance of accepting an engagement to endorse a Report which he had not read. His reputation, such as it was, was sought to lend credence to the Report. Endorsing something he had not read seems to be a pretty significant error of judgment on his part. Endorse the principles you say the Report promotes, if you wish, but do not endorse the Report without reading it.

His change of position, contrition and decision “to donate any moneys received from the IGR campaign to needy Government schools” can be said to be hollow, as it only came after significant public disquiet was expressed about his endorsement of the IGR. That change of position etc can be said to be not an act he initiated.

Whilst his actions can be said to have the benefit of now focussing attention on the problems with the IGR, the damage his reputation has suffered can also be said to be significant. The lack of disclosure of the fact that Dr Karl had not read the Report he was apparently endorsing is a relevant issue. Paid blind endorsements are not worth much in terms of credibility. Integrity free endorsements should be accompanied by an appropriate warning

The impact of the aforementioned blind endorsement upon his reputation is significant. Whatever Dr Karl may purport to say now can be said to be tainted by his poor judgment and lack of research attendant with his paid endorsement of the IGR. His apparently afterthought-inspired contrition will do little to redeem his reputation in the eyes of some people.

When you look at his history and discover that in 2007 he made a statement about climate change that he subsequently admitted was wrong, his credibility takes a further battering.

His most recent foray into commentary should have been informed by his earlier experiences.

In Lee & Anor v State of Queensland [2015] QDC 83 McGill SC DCJ at para [43] found that he was not prepared to accept the evidence of the Plaintiff Mr Swindles “as reliable unless it was independently supported, or inherently probable”. Using the Lee case as a guide, independent corroboration of the contention Dr Karl seeks to make may be required in future before some people are prepared to accept that contention.

The fact that by his actions Dr Karl has educated people as to:
  • the flaws in the IGR;
  • the process by which the government sought to promote it; and
  • the damage a paid blind endorsement without any accompanying disclosure can do to a reputation,
may be little consolation to him as he reflects upon putting his reputation in jeopardy and in circumstances which were entirely avoidable.