The resumption of Ben Roberts-Smith's defamation trial has been put off until at least the middle of January but no date has been set due to COVID-19 disruption.
The Victoria Cross recipient's lawsuit against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times was halted in August and slated to resume on November 1 after Sydney went into lockdown.
After hearing different proposals from the parties in the Federal Court on Friday, Justice Anthony Besanko vacated the November slot.
He also rejected a suggestion the trial be relocated to South Australia or resume for a short time from November 8 in Sydney to hear from NSW witnesses.
“I do not propose to fix the date for resumption,” he said.
“It seems to me circumstances are too uncertain for me to do that.
“I wish to have the opportunity of resuming the trial on, or some time after, January 17 should the circumstances indicate that is the appropriate course having regard to the interest of the parties and the administration of justice.”
The judge, who will give his reasons at a later date, listed the matter for a further case management hearing on December 3.
The difficulties of continuing the trial include the availability of witnesses from Western Australia flowing from COVID-19 border restrictions in that state.
Mr Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing the news outlets over articles from 2018 that he says paint him as a criminal who broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement during his deployments in Afghanistan with the SAS.
The war hero is also suing over claims he assaulted a woman in Canberra.
The former SAS corporal denies all allegations against him while the newspapers are running a truth defence.
His barrister Arthur Moses SC on Friday referred to the “extraordinary disruption to this trial” which was prejudicial not only to his client but to witnesses who experienced trauma in Afghanistan.
“He has stepped aside from his employment so he could focus on this litigation in his best interests and his employer's,” he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith had “weathered the storm” of cross-examination, but has had the stress hanging over him since he launched the proceedings.
One allegation raised related to rogue Afghan insurgent Hekmatullah, convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Mr Moses referred to his being recently released from custody and the “stress and humiliation” that caused his client.
The newspapers' barrister Nicholas Owens SC referred to the prejudice caused to his clients, who had been unable to call witnesses in support of their case of truth.
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