12 person jury granted for high-profile defamation case

THE man acquitted of the high-profile murder of Caroline Byrne has been granted a larger panel of jurors as he sues Australian media organisations for defamation.

Gordon Wood served three and a half years in prison after he was found guilty of throwing his former girlfriend off a cliff at The Gap in Sydney in 1995.

Wood was convicted in 2008 and then acquitted in February, 2012, when the Court of Criminal Appeal deemed there was insufficient evidence to prove his guilt.

He has launched defamation suits against Channel Seven and Nationwide News, a subsidiary of Newscorp, which owns newspapers including The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Lawsuits also lodged against radio stations 2UE and 2GB have been settled out of court.

Wood's legal team successfully petitioned to have 12 jurors present at the trial instead of four, as is ordinarily the case in a civil proceeding.

"From my own experience, I have observed that the determination of an allegation of murder is one which weighs heavily on those who have to determine it," Sydney Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum said.

"In my view, a group of 12 jurors rather than four is better equipped to bear that responsibility."

The lawsuit will again bring into question whether Wood murdered Caroline Byrne.

As a civil case, the under-fire media organisations only have to prove he was guilty on the "balance of probabilities", rather than "beyond reasonable doubt" as applies to criminal cases.

"The action will involve a retrial of the issue whether he murdered his girlfriend, the difference being that the standard of proof that applies in civil proceedings will apply," Justice McCallum said.

"The onus of proof will of course be on the defendants to establish the truth of the imputation of murder."

The matter is listed for mention at the Supreme Court in Sydney on Friday, November 14.


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