By James Atkinson

A patron who was excluded from a nightclub has lost his defamation proceedings against the venue, in a decision legal experts say clarifies the rights and duties of operators and guards when they refuse entry to their venues.

Sportswriter and broadcaster Richard Sleeman last year launched separate defamation and anti-discrimination proceedings against the operators of Sydney's Palms on Oxford nightclub.

He claimed he was defamed by a security guard who wrongly accused him of being drunk, and discriminated against on the basis of his age.

Ruling on the defamation case, District Court Judge Helen Gibson on Wednesday said the accusation of drunkenness was not 'published' and therefore did not constitute defamation.

Even if the accusation of drunkenness had been published, she said the venue and its operators were not vicariously liable for the actions of the security guard, who was an external contractor.

The judge also said Sleeman failed to prove malice on the part of the three defendants, and she accepted the venue's defence that Sleeman's complaint was trivial.

Even if Sleeman had been successful, Judge Gibson ruled that he would only be entitled to $3000 in damages. 

She also said that many of the 'publications' were in fact made by the plaintiff himself in recounting the story to others.

Nightclub owners 'pleased and relieved'

"Our clients are immensely pleased and relieved that the matter has now been decided by the court. They maintain that they have not in the past and do not currently discriminate against people who wish to enter the venue. It is open to people of all ages over 18," said David Sylvester, principal lawyer at Sylvester & Browne Lawyers, which acted for Palms.

"This has been a very important decision for those who own, operate or manage licensed venues in Australia. As the law currently stands, venues that engage in appropriate and responsible vetting procedures in relation to patrons and potential patrons should not be concerned when refusing entry to patrons pursuant to their responsibilities under both the Liquor and Anti-Discrimination Acts."

Sylvester advised security guards refusing entry to a venue should ensure that the person is clearly informed as to the reasons why.

"Best practice also dictates that incidents of this ilk should be recorded in the incident book in the event that complaints or civil proceedings are commenced at a later time by aggrieved persons," he said.

Sleeman to appeal

In Fairfax Media reports, Sleeman labelled the decision as "absolutely ridiculous" and said he intends to appeal it. 

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal is expected to hand down its decision on Sleeman's age discrimination claim in the coming weeks.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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