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Reports about high-profile surgeon Dr Munjed Al Muderis were in the public interest and examined the “lived experience” of some of his former patients, the barrister acting for Nine newspapers and 60 Minutes in his defamation case has told a court.
Al Muderis launched Federal Court defamation proceedings last year over reports in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes in September 2022. He says the reports convey a range of defamatory meanings, including that he negligently performed osseointegration surgery.
Surgeon Munjed Al Muderis, his partner Claudia Roberts and his legal team outside the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday.Credit: Steven Siewert
The surgery involves inserting titanium pins into the residual bone of an amputee, which allows prosthetic limbs to be connected.
The trial, which is slated to run for 12 weeks in two tranches, started its first six-week tranche of hearings on Monday.
Nine is seeking to rely on a range of defences, including a new public interest defence, truth, and honest opinion.
Dr Matt Collins, KC, acting for the Nine-owned media outlets, said in his opening address to the Federal Court in Sydney on Tuesday that “we do not contend that Dr Al Muderis is some sort of monster”.
“He obviously is not. To many, many of his patients, a large number of whom have been in the courtroom … he is a hero. He’s enabled them to walk again.
“We’d never seek to diminish how that has transformed the lives of those individuals. But there was a public interest in reporting what happens when surgery of this kind fails.”
The media outlets expect to call 30 former patients to give evidence in the trial, Collins said. They were expected to say “their quality of life was diminished by reason of having been operated upon by Dr Al Muderis”.
“Many will say that he ruined their lives,” Collins said. “Their stories are strikingly similar: they are stories of risks being downplayed or not mentioned at all, of medical records not accurately recording what was said in consultations, of alternatives to aggressive surgery not being explained or explored, of sales tactics and pressure undermining their ability to give informed consent.”
Collins said there would also be evidence given of “disastrous mistakes being made during surgery” and “post-operative care that was inadequate to non-existent”.
He said Al Muderis’ barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, SC, had not detailed in her opening address to the court on Monday the major complaints the surgeon’s former patient Mark Urquhart had about his surgery. Urquhart is expected to give evidence for Nine.
Collins said Urquhart had enjoyed the benefits of his surgery for some time, but it “went catastrophically wrong, and that’s the gravamen of his complaint”.
Urquhart would tell the court he would have been “much better off” not having had the surgery, Collins said.
The trial continues.
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