Tag Archives: children in court

Insights into open justice law reform


The NSW Law Reform Commission is conducting a review into open justice. 

Congratulations to the NSW Government for commissioning such a review.

Here are some insights I will be presenting to a roundtable convened by the commission. Some are drawn from a joint preliminary submission I prepared with colleagues Jane Johnston, Patrick Keyzer and Anne Wallace. Others are my own views after considering the Commission’s Consultation Paper 22 on the topic.

1. Macro versus micro issues

My first major concern is to do with the nature of most such inquiries – their primary focus is on the reform of the law related to the topic in the particular jurisdiction – in this case NSW. While this inquiry’s terms of reference do direct it to consider the findings of the (Commonwealth) Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse regarding the public interest in exposing child sexual abuse offending and ‘comparable legal and practical arrangements elsewhere in Australia and overseas’, the latter consideration is mainly used as a reference point to help guide the NSW reforms. There is too little encouraging steps towards uniformity of the laws across jurisdictions, which should be the number one priority in an era where media and social media defy jurisdictional borders. To this end:

a. A key recommendation should be to collaborate with other jurisdictions (perhaps using joint law reform commission inquiries on such matters) to achieve a semblance of uniformity so that journalists and others do not need to know the myriad of publishing restrictions that might apply to a single investigation or post across multiple states and territories (plus the Commonwealth).

b. When reviewing the micro changes to particular rules or laws affecting media research or publication, such inquiries should provide a table of inter-jurisdictional approaches to the topic and then propose the most common/popular approach as the default, only supplanted by compelling arguments to the contrary. This would represent a significant step to uniformity on each facet of the reforms.

c. Reform commissions should seek out national solutions to cross-jurisdictional publishing problems. For example, on the topic of a register of suppression orders, a recommendation should be that the Attorney-General be advised to bring forward to the Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) a proposal for a new national register of suppression orders, with all state, territory and Commonwealth jurisdictions feeding into the system. The Commission should be applauded for suggesting a national regime for access to court documents as part of its consultation paper (at p. 155).

2. Micro issues

I bring to the roundtable some views on the specific topic at hand – ‘Enforcing restrictions on publication or disclosure and other digital technology issues’.

a. The Commission is considering two options to help increase awareness of the existence of suppression and non-publication orders – to either to improve the notification system by establishing a new public body to notify likely parties that a suppression order exists, or to create a searchable register of NSW suppression orders available to the public and/or the media. To my mind, these options should not be mutually exclusive. Both could be proposed, and the proposal for a register should suggest a collaboration for a new national system. Any notification body should also be briefed to monitor social media actively for breaches and notifications/warnings, because the mainstream media is strongly disadvantaged by the current situation that allows for rampant social media discussion in breach of suppression orders while the media, who are aware of such orders, have their hands tied and continue to lose audience to social media in the process.

b. The issue of the extraterritorial application of offences for the breach of NSW publishing restrictions also has strong social media vs mainstream media dimensions. A breach by traditional media becomes much more obvious and enforceable, even though its audience might only number in the thousands while social media users might be committing the same breach in their millions. This happened in the Pell case in Victoria. So too did the international breach of orders by major media entities beyond the reach of prosecutors. It can become futile to issue and attempt to enforce restrictions when there is no international reach. Nevertheless, a social media active approach by the proposed new public body could make some inroads.

c. International online intermediaries need to be held account for not acting within a reasonable time to remove flagrant breaches of publishing restrictions once they have been brought to their attention. Given the size of such operations, a 24 hour notice period should be negotiable starting point as a time limit after notification. Again, a new public body established in this space could be responsible for monitoring and initiating such demands on a routine basis.

d. The myriad of offences, penalties, elements and exceptions certainly require standardisation to a recklessness standard. Strict liability is too high a hurdle given the widespread level of court and justice illiteracy among the broader social media population. Financially stricken mainstream media organisation have also reduced training in this space. A new public body with judicial powers could institute a warning system once a breach has been identified, and breaches could then be dealt with as disobedience contempt or at an “intent” level if the breach recurs after the warning.

e. This approach would feed into the question of support standardising penalties across the different offences. Defiance of an order could be dealt with harshly under the disobedience contempt powers of the new public body. However, in a democratic society jail penalties should only be used in the most extreme cases of disobedience, and certainly not at first instance. Financial penalties – perhaps accompanied by other innovative orders related to suspension of social media use – should be preferred. The scale of financial penalties can increase for the most serious cases once imprisonment is removed from the equation.

f. Two years is too long a period to bring a prosecution for a publishing offence. A one year limitation period applies effectively to defamation, so there is no reason why it should not also apply to such publishing offences.

g. The suggestion to establish a Court Information Commissioner should be applauded, with the functions as described in the report.

h. Proposals for helping avoid juror to exposure to prejudicial information are reasonable, particularly having them swear or affirm they will not make inquiries, repeating jury directions and allowing judge-alone trials when pre-trial publicity has stood to prejudice proceedings. However, missing here is the mention of juror training in the area. A simple juror course on the issue can be administered and tested online and would add to their understanding of the issue. Again, this is a topic that should be reformed nationally.

i. The extent to which the use of social media in court by journalists should be examined as part of national reform. Journalists attend court in different jurisdictions and there needs to be uniformity. A 15 minute delay before posting is a reasonable approach.

j. As virtual courts become more necessary and common, they should be as open to the public and media as other proceedings given the importance of open justice as a principle. New rules might need development and reinforcement, such as a ban on the screen capturing of images or broadcasting footage from proceedings, as with recent BBC contempt fine – https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/bbc-fined-28000-for-broadcasting-footage-of-remote-hearing/5107273.article

© Mark Pearson 2021

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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My latest Conversation piece on media implications of NT youth justice proposals #MLGriff


For the past week, momentum has been building for a national parliamentary inquiry into media freedom following the police raids on ABC and News Corp journalists.

But the issue of press freedom isn’t restricted to Canberra – there’s another contentious debate taking place at the moment in the Northern Territory over a plan by the government to close the NT’s courts to the media in cases involving young offenders.

The debate centres on a bill that would introduce the nation’s most restrictive rules on reporting on juvenile offenders, including punishments of up to a year in jail for journalists who enter a juvenile court or publish details of any case.

Interested? Read my full article in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/nt-wants-to-end-naming-and-shaming-of-juvenile-offenders-sparking-press-freedom-debate-118170

© Mark Pearson 2019

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Filed under contempt of court, courts, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Media regulation, open justice, sub judice

Court restrictions on identifying children in Australia – a guide for journalists


We have removed the comparative reporting restrictions tables from the  fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2014) which will be published later this year.

Co-author Mark Polden and I have decided to move these comparative tables on reporting restrictions throughout Australia across to this blog – journlaw.com – so we could free up space in the new edition to discuss other important issues such as media law for public relations consultants and the implications of digital and social media.

We will work to update the reporting and publishing restrictions tables over coming months, but for the moment I am publishing them as they stood at the date of our fourth edition in 2011.

As I upload them over coming weeks I would appreciate any students or colleagues using the comments section below to advise of any updates in your jurisdictions and I will act to update the tables accordingly.

Looking forward to your collaborative input!


Restrictions on reports of proceedings involving children

Note: NO identification of parties or witnesses in any way under the Commonwealth Family Law Act s. 121.

Jurisdiction Law  Exceptions  Legislation 
ACT  Reports of proceedings: Media allowed to report. ID: Cannot be identified. Cannot publish account of family group conference— None mentioned.  Criminal Code 2002, s. 712A. Children and Young People Act 2008, s. 77. 
NSW Reports of proceedings: Media allowed to stay and report. ID: No ID of child mentioned or otherwise involved (including victims and witnesses) living or dead, during or after proceedings, or their siblings.— Court may close proceedings. Court may allow ID or children aged 16 or over can authorise.(Seek legal advice on this.) Or senior next of kin or court (if deceased).


Children (Criminal Proceedings)Act 1987, s. 15A; Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, ss. 104 and 105; Young Offenders Act 1997, s. 65. 
NT  Reports of proceedings: Open court and reports allowed. ID: No restriction.— Magistrate may close court or order suppression.  Youth Justice Act 2005, ss. 49, 50. 
Qld  Reports of proceedings: No. ID: No ID of child accused without court’s permission. No ID of child witness in sexual matter. ID of child witness okay in other matters unless ordered otherwise. Cannot ID authorised officer or police officer in matters with child witnesses. No ID info about child victims. No ID of children subject to allegations of harm or risk of harm or in state custody or guardianship.— Judge may order publication of identifying information for heinous crimes. Court can permit reporting when otherwise prohibited.Child victim can consent after becoming adult if fully informed of publication matter, audience and reason. Youth Justice Act 1992, ss. 234, 301. Child Protection Act 1999, ss. 189, 192, 193. 
SA  Reports of proceedings: Court open to ‘genuine representatives of news media’. No family care proceedings reports. ID: No ID of child parties, witnesses or victims,or other persons other than in official capacity without their permission, including name, address or school. Documentaries may be approved under strict conditions.— Courts can authorise some reports and ID.  Youth Court Act 1993, s. 24; Young Offenders Children’s   Protection Act 1993, s. 59, Children’s Protection Act 1993, s. 13; 59A. 
Jurisdiction  Law  Exceptions  Legislation 
Tas Reports of proceedings: No provision for media to be present without permission of court. ID: No ID of youths or youth witnesses.— Permission of court.  Youth Justice Act 1997, ss. 30, 31; Magistrates Court (Children’s Division) Act 1998, ss. 11, 12. 
Vic Reports of proceedings: Open court and media allowed to report. ID: No identification of child accused or any witnesses to case. No mention of court venue. Long list of banned ID particulars for children and witnesses including: name, title, pseudonym, alias of the person, home or work address or localit0, school or locality; physical description or style of dress; occupation or calling; relationship to identified others; interests or beliefs; real or personal property. No photos.— Permission of court.  Children, Youth and Families Act   2005, ss. 523, 534. 
WA  Reports of proceedings: Yes ID: No ID on child involved in proceedings in any way. No ID of child subject of a protection application or order.— Court can exclude persons. Supreme Court can authorise ID of child.  Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988, ss. 31, 35, 36, 36A. Children and Community Services Act 2004, s. 234 


Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014


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