Earlier this month the Open Court Bill 2013 entered the Legislative Assembly in Victoria. The bill predominately concerns the issuing of media suppression orders by the courts.
Over the past few years Victoria has been dubbed the suppression order capital of Australia and there has been criticism that the long-standing “open justice principle” is being jeopardised.
Currently the courts are meant to enforce an order only in select circumstances such as cases involving children, sexual offenders, national security and police informers. However, there is not a closed list of categories and judges are able to issue an order in any case that they believe it is necessary to do so.
Not only is there uncertainty in regards to how often suppression orders are made but there is also concern over whether in the digital age they are still effective.
Often case information that has been suppressed from publication is readily accessed online despite traditional media outlets adhering to the order. Particularly since the raise of social media these kind of orders are being undermined as the everyday individual publishes material that they may not even be aware has been suppressed.
This was well demonstrated in the UK with the scandal involving a football player that was “unable to be named” but which was well known to be Manchester United’s, Ryan Giggs.
Despite the argument that suppression orders are now pointless they do serve an important protectionist role, particularly in regards to children and victims of sexual offences.
The bill will hopefully see a return of the original purpose of suppression orders, which is to safeguard the vulnerable and ensure a fair trial, while opening up the court system by restricting orders made merely to save prominent figures from embarrassment.
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