Noah's Ark judge fears opening of the floodgates

May 2, 1997

ON THE final day of a court hearing that has become known across Australia as the "Noah's Ark case", the judge questioned whether the federal court in Sydney should have been involved and asked if freedom of speech was under attack, writes Geoff Maslen.

Justice Ronald Sackville queried legal counsel as to whether his court was an appropriate forum for Melbourne academic, Ian Plimer, to sue Allen Roberts, who claims that he discovered Noah's Ark in Turkey. Professor Plimer, head of earth sciences at Melbourne University, had earlier told the court that Mr Roberts made misleading and deceptive statements about the site in Turkey, in a series of lectures he gave in several capital cities during 1992. He took Mr Roberts to court, seeking an injunction to prevent repetition of the action.

But Justice Sackville asked why he should make such an order. "Should the courts be involved in this kind of dispute?" he said. "We have quite enough business to keep us going without adjudicating on every ideological, theological or other belief that might be contested. There are also questions of freedom of discourse, however absurd some people may think the ideas are."

The judge also spoke about the possibility of the case setting a precedent and opening "the floodgates for all sorts of claims". Counsel for Mr Roberts agreed and urged Justice Sackville not to make any orders because, he said, they would only encourage more such cases.

Counsel for Professor Plimer, however, replied that there was no attempt to stop people saying what they believed and what they thought, but only a desire to protect consumers from being misled by the announcements.

During the hearing, Mr Roberts denied using the title "doctor" to earn greater credi-bility and to suggest that he was a scientist among members of the public who had paid to hear his lectures. He said he had a PhD in Christian education from Freedom University in Florida, (but this is an institution not recognised by the United States authorities).

Mr Robert's lawyer estimated that both sides in the dispute had spent or incurred $500,000 (Pounds 250,000) in costs over the years pursuing the case. He said: "If anybody had taken half a million dollars and gone and dug the damn thing up we would have had a definitive answer as to whether the site contains Noah's Ark." The judge has reserved his decision.

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