Mixed verdict in Andrew Little defamation trial

Labour leader Andrew Little says he "would've probably been busking on the bottom of Lambton Quay" if he had to pay the up to $2.3 million of damages sought by the Hagamans in a defamation trial.

The jury has returned with a mixed verdict in Mr Little's defamation case at the Wellington High Court on Monday.

The 12-member jury was unanimous that Mr Little did not defame Lani Hagaman, but have found that he defamed Scenic Hotels founder Earl Hagaman on one count.

However, on this count, the jury could not agree on whether Mr Little had a defence of qualified privilege.

Mr Little was sued after questioning why Scenic Hotels won a contract to manage a Niue resort which received Government funding just a month after Mr Hagaman donated $100,000 to the National Party.

The Hagamans were seeking a maximum of $2.3 million between them from Mr Little.

Four further counts of defamation against Mr Hagaman could not be decided on, and the jury found that one count was not defamatory.

There are no damages at this stage, but there could be a new trial for the undecided counts.

Earlier on Monday afternoon the jury announced they had failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

However, Justice Karen Clark instructed that they keep trying to reach a majority decision. 

Mr and Mrs Hagaman claimed Mr Little defamed them when he called the deal "shady" and "questionable" in a written statement and subsequent media appearances.

"When I hurt people, which I never intend to do, I try to take responsibility and make amends. I tried to do that on this occasion, but it didn't work," Mr Little said on Monday evening.

"It's always stressful when you're up for a court hearing that could lead to a judgement of $2.3 million against you. Of course it is. And the thing about litigation is, and I've known this, is that there is huge uncertainty. Uncertainty carries its own stresses.

"I don't have assets worth $2.3 million; I don't have a line of credit worth $2.3 million. Had that award been made I'd have to work very hard to get that. But I have to confess I was somewhat confident that such an award would not be made.

"I would've probably been busking on the bottom of Lambton Quay by now."

In summing up on Friday, Justice Karen Clark told the jury of 12 they had to decide whether Mr Little was "predominantly motivated by ill-will" when he made the comments.

If they said yes to that point, then Mr Little's comments and criticism would not be protected by qualified privilege.

Justice Clark described privilege as a situation in which a person has a duty - whether legal or moral - to make a statement to a person who has a legitimate interest.

Qualified privilege was a key factor in Mr Little's defence.

He claimed that as Leader of the Opposition he had an obligation to hold the powerful to account, and in questioning the hotel deal with reporters he was merely carrying out that duty.

However the Hagamans' lawyer Richard Fowler QC says Mr Little went too far with his comments, which the Hagamans claim targeted them and not the Government.

Justice Clark told the 12-member jury they should put their political views out of mind when deliberating.

As it's a civil trial, the jury had to decide if the Hagamans' claims had been proven on the 'balance of probability'  unlike a criminal trial, which sets the bar as 'beyond reasonable doubt'.