Lawyers and financial supporters who backed Ben Roberts-Smith in his multimillion-dollar defamation trial have sought to overturn a court judgment requiring them to hand over documents as the fight over who should pay the massive legal bills took a turn.

Earlier this year, Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko ruled that some of the imputations against Mr Roberts-Smith put forward across six articles in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times were substantially true and dismissed the Victoria Cross recipient’s lawsuit.

The newspapers had accused Mr Roberts-Smith of war crimes and after a marathon trial, it has been estimated that the legal bill for both sides will exceed $25m.

Justice Besanko previously rejected a bid by Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes, his private company Australian Capital Equity (ACE), Seven Network commercial director Bruce McWilliam and law firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Mark O’Brien Legal to have a series of subpoenas set aside.

The subpoenas were issued to all parties by Nine Newspapers to uncover communications between the financial backers and the lawyers in a bid to demonstrate their involvement in the trial.

The trial was funded initially by the Seven Network before a loan agreement was reached with Mr Stokes’ private company ACE.

A third-party order for costs was sought by Nine Newspapers following Justice Besanko’s judgment.

The application asked for costs from the Seven Network, its owner billionaire media mogul Mr Stokes and his private company.

However, the court was told on Friday that lawyers for the Seven Network and other parties were appealing the decision not to set aside the subpoenas that were at the heart of the issue.

Barrister Justin Williams SC asked for a stay or variation of the orders for the production of the material.

He said it would be “futile” to appeal the decision if his clients were forced to produce the documents before any appeal was heard.

Nicholas Owens SC, acting for Nine Newspapers, asked that the material be produced to the court but his clients not be able to access them until the appeal’s resolution.

Justice Besanko suspended the orders for two weeks, with the matter to return to court on September 1.

Meanwhile, Roberts-Smith has since launched an appeal against Justice Besanko’s judgment in the defamation suit.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyers argue that Justice Besanko “erred in his findings” that Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in four murders of unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012.


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By Rahul

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