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Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial begins hearing closing submissions after 100 days of testimony

Ben Roberts-Smith is suing three newspapers over articles he said defamed him. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Ben Roberts-Smith's barrister has told a judge the war veteran was an exceptional soldier who was subject to a sustained campaign from newspapers to create a belief he was a war criminal. 

After more than 100 days since it began, closing submissions have started in the Victoria Cross recipient's defamation case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, and three journalists.

He claims he was falsely portrayed in 2018 articles as a war criminal, a bully and a perpetrator of domestic violence.

The veteran's barrister, Arthur Moses SC, began by telling Justice Anthony Besanko the proceedings had been called "a great many things", including the "trial of the century", a "proxy war-crimes trial" and an "attack" on press freedom.

"It is none of these," Mr Moses told the Federal Court in Sydney.

"This has been a case about how Mr Roberts-Smith, the most decorated Australian soldier, and a man with a high reputation for courage, skill and decency in soldiering, had that reputation destroyed by the respondents".

Mr Roberts-Smith served in the SAS between 1996 and 2013, including multiple deployments to Afghanistan.

Arthur Moses told the court the reputation of Ben Roberts-Smith had been destroyed. (AAP: James Gourley)

"As the evidence demonstrated, Mr Roberts-Smith was an exceptional soldier — highly organised, a leader, resourceful and exceptionally brave," Mr Moses said.

Mr Moses said Mr Roberts-Smith was competent in battle, effective in killing anti-coalition militia, and never sought a defence honour or recognition.

"What he did not expect was that having been awarded the Victoria Cross, he would have a target on his back," the barrister continued.

"The publications of the respondents were based on rumour, hearsay and contradictory accounts from former colleagues who were, some, jealous, and/or obsessed with Mr Roberts-Smith."

Publisher Nine Entertainment has relied chiefly on a defence of truth and called dozens of current and former SAS soldiers.

Mr Moses took aim at the evidence of three SAS witnesses for Nine: Person 7, Person 14 and former-soldier-turned-politician Andrew Hastie.

He said journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters reported what these sources told them as "matters of fact".

"What is apparent is that both journalists have mounted a sustained campaign to unfairly create a belief that Mr Roberts-Smith had committed war crimes in Afghanistan, including during the course of these proceedings."

Mr Moses said the journalists were willing to write "sensationalist accounts", "presumably to obtain accolades".

He also criticised Nine for refusing to make any concessions even when confronted with evidentiary problems, which he said would become relevant to the question of aggravated damages.

"The purpose of these proceedings is the vindication of Mr Robert-Smith's reputation."

Another barrister acting for Mr Roberts-Smith, Matthew Richardson SC, said Nine had pleaded that the war veteran was complicit in a murder in Syahchow in October 2012.

He said after an ex-colleague, Person 66, gave evidence in March it was clear there was no evidence to support the allegation, however it remained in their pleadings when it should have been removed.

Person 66 was not compelled to give evidence about the mission in question.

Mr Richardson said there was a "carelessness" in which the respondents made and maintained allegations.

He noted that in Nine's written closing submissions, there was a footnote that acknowledged the publisher was not able to discharge its onus in relation to the truth defence with respect to that allegation, due to Person 66 not being compelled.

Mr Richardson said that was a "sophistry".

"There should have been a further amended defence that removed that allegation," Mr Richardson told the court.

Nicholas Owens began his own closing address on Monday afternoon. (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

Nicholas Owens SC, for Nine, began his own closing address by repeating what he said more than a year ago while opening his clients' case — that the judge would be presented with a "stark choice between effectively irreconcilable accounts". 

He said that meant the judge was confronted with a "dilemma" that "someone is lying".

Mr Owens said Mr Roberts-Smith was not arguing that Nine's witnesses were "deliberately dishonest".

He outlined what he said was the "framework" within which the case should be decided, including the civil standard of proof: the balance of probabilities.

"No matter how grave the allegation, Your Honour is only required to find it more probable than not," he said.

Mr Owens also argued the nature of the fact-finding the judge will need to complete is of an "interrelated nature".

"This really comes down to the proposition that the honesty of all these witnesses is fundamental," he said.

"And if Your Honour makes a finding contrary to Mr Roberts-Smith's case in relation to a murder, we say ... the effect on Mr Roberts-Smith's credibility at that point will be devastating."

He said this created an "inevitable flow-on effect" regarding other aspects of the evidence.

Each side has been allocated four days for a closing address.

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