Tag Archives: open justice

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

By MARK PEARSON

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 

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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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Filed under blogging, contempt of court, courts, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

Sexual offences publishing restrictions in Australia – a guide for journalists

By MARK PEARSON

Our fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2014) goes to the printer this week for publication later this year.

Co-author Mark Polden and I have decided to move some of the 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!

 

Sexual offences publication restrictions

Jurisdiction  Law Exception Legislation
ACT Complainant must not be identified by name, ‘reference or allusion’, including allowing someone to find out their ‘private, business or official address, email address or telephone number’.


 

Complainant may consent. (Seek legal advice on proving consent.) Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1999, s. 40.
New South Wales
Complainant must not be identified, even after proceedings disposed of. With permission of court. Consent of complainant aged over 14. (Seek legal advice.) With consent of court for   complainants aged under 16.


 

Crimes Act 1900, s. 578A; Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987, s. 15A.
Northern Territory
Complainant must not be identified at all. Accused cannot be identified until after committal. No mention of ‘name, address, school or place of employment’ for either.


 

With permission of court. Sexual Offences (Evidence and Procedure) Act 1983, ss. 6, 7 and 11(2).
Queensland Complainant must not be identified at all. Accused cannot be identified until after committal. No mention of ‘name, address, school or place of employment’ for either. With permission of court.Protection for accused only applies to ‘prescribed sexual offences’:
(a) rape;
(b) attempt to commit rape;
(c) assault with intent to commit rape;
(d) an offence defined in the Criminal Code, section 352.1. Seek legal advice about other offences.


 

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978, ss. 6 and 7.
South Australia Case and related proceedings including identity of accused cannot be reported until accused has been committed for trial. Complainant must not be identified at any stage.Publishers must publish prominent report of result of proceedings they have covered at earlier stage when accused has been identified.


 

  • Pre-committal reports can be made with permission of accused. (Seek advice.)
  • Complainant can be identified with his/her permission or order of court unless child victim.
Evidence Act 1929, ss. 71A and B.
Tasmania Complainant and witnesses other than defendant must not be identified, even if dead. Also bans ‘any picture purporting to be a picture of any of those persons’.


 

Court may allow identification ‘in the public interest’. Evidence Act 2001, s. 194K.
Victoria Complainant must not be identified, even if proceedings not pending. If proceedings not pending, with permission of court or complainant (seek legal advice) or on proof that no complaint of offence had yet been made to police. If proceedings pending, with permission of court only.


 

Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958, s. 4.
Western Australia Complainant and their school must not be identified. With authorisation in writing by complainant aged over 18 and mentally capable of making decision. (Seek legal advice.)


 

Evidence Act 1906, s. 36c.

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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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Announcing the fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law

By MARK PEARSON

Co-author Mark Polden and I are in the final stages of production of the fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, to be published later this year.

We are re-engaging with the print medium as we apply our eagle eyes to the final hard copy galley proofs – our last chance for amendments and updates – before it goes to the printer for the production process.

Much has changed since our last edition in 2011, particularly in the fields of news media, communication technologies and practices, tertiary education and the law. We have reshaped and updated this edition of the book to accommodate those developments.

The book is still titled The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, but its new subtitle—‘A handbook for communicators in a digital world’—encapsulates the seismic shifts that have prompted our considerable revisions. Our target audience has broadened with each edition as technologies like the internet and social media have combined to transform journalism and its allied professional communication careers. Thus our prime audience of Australian journalists working for traditional media outlets has widened to embrace public relations consultants, bloggers, social media editors and new media entrepreneurs,  as they fill new professional occupations dealing with media law, once the domain of mainstream reporters and editors.  Crucial questions which recur through the book include: ‘What is a journalist?’, ‘Who is a publisher?’, ‘How does media law affect this new communication form?’ and ‘Who qualifies for this protection?’ Some of the answers are still evolving, as legislators, the judiciary and the community grapple with the implications of every citizen now having international publishing technology literally at their fingertips on mobile devices.

Such shifts have prompted major new inclusions in the content of the book. So much publishing now transcends Australia’s borders via social media, blogs and other online platforms that we have expanded this edition to contain many more international comparisons and cases. This has been accommodated by reducing some of the forensic examination of precise legislation in various Australian states and territories, found in previous editions. Instead of attempting to document every statutory instrument in all nine Australian jurisdictions, we have directed readers to the resources that contain those details.

All of this has necessitated design and pedagogical changes to the book’s format and contents. While the chapter structure is generally in accord with previous editions, there are new sections within the chapters addressing these issues. Their order varies slightly according to topic, but most chapters now include some key concepts defined at the start, some international background and context to the media law topic, a more detailed account tailored to Australian legislation and case law, a review of the ‘digital dimensions’ of the topic with special focus on internet and social media cases and examples, an account of self-regulatory processes if they apply to that topic, some tips for journalists and other professional communicators for mindful practice in the area, a nutshell summary, some discussion questions, and relevant readings and case references.

The introduction of ‘tips for mindful practice’ encapsulates the authors’ aim that professional communicators need to build into their work practices and routines an informed reflection upon the legal and ethical implications of their reportage, commentary, editing, publishing and social media usage. This approach is explained in greater detail in Chapter 2, but it essentially links safe legal practice and the responsible and strategic use of free expression with the personal moral framework and professional ethical strictures of the digital communicator—whether a journalist, public relations consultant, media relations officer or serious blogger.

Those changing roles are reflected in a new final chapter, Chapter 13, which deals with the law of PR, freelancing and media entrepreneurship. It replaces a chapter on self-regulation in earlier editions. (The role and application of the various industry regulatory, co-regulatory and self-regulatory bodies, such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Press Council (APC), are now introduced in Chapter 3, but they are then referred to in the chapters where their functions and decisions seem most relevant). We saw this area of media law as significant because those who occupy those roles  are now grappling with special dimensions of media law—and several other legal topics relevant to their work—and deserve a new chapter dedicated to their roles and the legal dilemmas that are emerging in relation to them. The chapter also reflects the fact that many former journalists are now working in these allied occupations, and that student journalists need to start their careers with a broad understanding of the legal considerations which govern allied professional communication industries.

The sheer pace of change in all areas of media law is astounding. Many changes were mooted as this edition was going to press—including important developments in the laws of privacy, copyright, hate speech and court reporting. Rather than render the book dated as soon as it is printed, we have opted to use co-author Professor Mark Pearson’s journlaw.com blog (this one!) as the venue for updates to material, and have built several mentions of that resource into the chapters and discussion questions.

Apart from an array of new cases and examples—many from the international arena and many more from social media—some highlights of important new content covered in this edition include the following:

  • There are significant cases on increased statutory powers, allowing courts to make suppression and non-publication orders, and on the relationship between free speech, open justice and the right of parties to settle disputes privately. Recent cases at the borderline between ridicule and defamation, and on the application of freedom of information laws to immigration detention centres are included, as are cases on the application of sub judice contempt to internet content hosts and ‘celebrity’ claims of privacy invasion.
  • Recommendations of the ALRC on copyright reform are included, together with a discussion of the new copyright fair dealing defence that applies to satire. The book presents a wide range of examples, across different legal categories, relating to the use of the internet and social media, which will be of growing importance for current and future professional practise in communication, reportage and media advice.
  • A separate chapter on secrets (Chapter 9) covers the new journalists’ shield laws and their relevance to micro-bloggers and non-traditional publishers.
  • Chapter 10, on anti-terrorism and hate laws, includes the recommendations for reform of anti-terror laws and discusses the high-profile Andrew Bolt case and related proposals for reform of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
  • The recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry in the United Kingdom, and the Finkelstein Inquiry and Convergence Review in Australia, are subjected to critical analysis in view of their potential impact upon notions of a free press.

There is also an increased emphasis on real-time reportage, as the traditional print media increase their online presence and depth of click-through coverage in a 24/7 news cycle, with concomitant risks in the areas of defamation and contempt in their own work and that of third-party commentators on their websites and social media pages.

Without going into exhaustive detail on all of these matters, the book remains true to its original aim: to provide professional communicators and students with a basic working understanding of the key areas of media law and ethical regulation likely to affect them in their research, writing and publishing across the media. It tries to do this by introducing basic legal concepts while exploring the ways in which a professional communicator’s work practices can be adapted to withstand legal challenges.

In designing this edition, we have tried to pay heed to the needs of both professional communicators and media students. The book is best read from front to back, given the progressive introduction of legal concepts. However, it will also serve as a ready reference for those wanting guidance on an emerging problem in a newsroom or PR consultancy. The cases cited illustrate both the legal and media points at issue; in addition, wherever possible, recent, practical examples have been used instead of archaic cases from the dusty old tomes in the law library. Rather than training reporters, bloggers and PR practitioners to think like lawyers, this book will achieve its purpose if it prompts a professional communicator to pause and reflect mindfully upon their learning here when confronted with a legal dilemma, and decide on the appropriate course of action. Often that will just mean sounding the alarm bells and consulting a supervisor or seeking legal advice.

Of course, the book is not meant to offer actual legal advice. Professional communicators must seek that advice from a lawyer when confronted with a legal problem. The most we claim to do is offer an introduction to each area of media law so that journalists, PR consultants and bloggers can identify an emerging issue and thus know when to call for help.

Booktopia is offering pre-orders on their website: http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-journalist-s-guide-to-media-law-mark-pearson/prod9781743316382.html

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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Justice Open and Shut – Suppression Orders and Open Justice – live blog #openshut

By MARK PEARSON

I’m at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism’s ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney today and will be writing this live blog of highlights from today’s speakers as the day unfolds. Drop in if you’re in the neighbourhood to Mary Anne House, Level 3, 645 Harris St, Ultimo, Sydney.

Testing the law in NSW with the ‘Keeper of Secrets’ Miiko Kumar

The open justice system incorporates open reasons for decisions as well, says media law barrister and academic Miiko Kumar.

Media law barrister Miiko Kumar

Media law barrister Miiko Kumar

Open justice ensures justice is imparted fairly and openly, the senior lecturer in law at the University of Sydney told the Justice Open and Shut conference at UTS.

Kumar said justice can be closed by excluding the public, restricting access to confidential information, non-publication orders, pseudonym orders, witnesses giving evidence via CCTV or from behind screens, and through the use of secret evidence.

Secret evidence is where a party tenders evidence that the other parties do not see, but that is rare.

Both the common law and key statutes give courts their power to suppress in NSW, including Court Suppression and Non-Publication Act 2010 and the Civil Procedure Act. Of course, other legislation exists for specific types of witnesses, such as the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987.

She said the common law test for the issue of a suppression order was a ‘test of necessity’, not a balancing test.

“It does not mean it is just convenient or to save someone embarrassment – that is not enough,” she said.

A wide section of people have standing to apply for a suppression order in NSW, and it can be made at any time during a trial.

The NSW legislation was tested in the recent Gina Rinehart case when she applied for a stay of proceedings along with a suppression order on the grounds that the confidentiality of the proceedings would be breached.

The court was open but there was a non-publication order over the proceedings.

[ Welker & Ors v. Rinehart [2011] NSWSC 1094 (Brereton J) 13/9/11 … Appeal: Rinehart v. Welker & Ors [2011] NSW CA (Tobias AJA) 31/10/11 … Appeal: Rinehart v. Welker [2011] NSWA 403 (Bathurst CJ and MColl JA; Young JA) 19/12/11].

Suppression order was lifted in that final appeal.

“The decision shows us that the court takes the administration of justice seriously,” she said.

“The media was the one who objected to the order. It is important for the media to know when the orders are made because they are usually the ones who will object.

“The parties are more concerned about their case so they are focussed on that.”

Kumar also explained public interest immunity where a court determines a claim by having the document that is the subject of a claim and considering it in closed session.

Victoria – the state of suppression

A study of non publication orders over a five year period in Victoria found that more than 1500 had been imposed across the state’s court system , according to the deputy director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at the Melbourne Law School, Jason Bosland.

UTS professor Wendy Bacon and Melbourne Law School's Jason Bosland

UTS professorial fellow Wendy Bacon and Melbourne Law School’s Jason Bosland

Mr Bosland reported to the  ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney on his team’s research on the breakdown of legislative or common law powers under which the various courts imposed suppression orders.

Some orders were made under the provisions of an act of parliament that did not even give the courts power to issue orders.

About 70 per cent of all orders made by Victorian courts did not contain an end date or any other temporal limitation to bring them to an end. The Magistrates Court made 398 orders without a specified end date over the period. Only 128 orders revoked 202 suppression orders over the period.

More than half of the suppression orders were ‘blanket orders’ – banning the whole of proceedings from publication – including about 80 per cent of non-publication orders in the state’s County Court.

“There were real problems with ambiguity and breadth,” Mr Bosland told the conference.

Many of the orders related to the revelation of the identity of a victim in circumstances where other legislation might already prohibit this publication.

Mr Bosland has also been researching the suppression of judicial reasons. He found that in Western Australia 47 judgments of the Supreme Court and 17 of the Court of Appeal had been withheld from publication, with nine across the Supreme, appeal and district courts in NSW, and about 20 in Victoria.

He further found a simple search of the terms “Judgment Suppressed” and “Judgment Restricted” into the database Austlii generated several pages of search results.

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The UK situation: Translucent justice? Digital and physical access to UK courts

The physical doors to UK courts are ‘open’, but virtual legal information is not, says UK researcher Judith Townend from City University London.

jude

Judith Townend, City University London

The notion of open justice seems to stall at the online level. Very little can be systematically documented about what is happening in the courts, she said.

For example, there is no systematic recording of data on the outcome of defamation claims.

“It’s a given that we do want to have open access to the courts but there are particular challenges that need to be considered,” she said.

She cited the recent development of a ‘right to be forgotten’ as an emerging issue standing in the way of open justice online, along with copyright, defamation, spent convictions and the tort of misuse of private information.

She explained the proliferation of so-called ‘super injunctions’ in the UK from 2009-2011.

“Particularly worrying were the sorts of injunction where the fact that they existed could not even be reported – and these were the so-called ‘super injunctions’, Townend told the  ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney.

“It is not known how many existed, but it is thought there was a small number of the truly ‘super’ kind.”

Her research has been investigating the fate of a reporting restrictions database proposed in England and Wales in 2007. Despite a freedom of information request, she was unable to find out why it had not been implemented despite an effective simple operating in the Scottish jurisdiction.

The Law Commission had found a simple system similar to the Scottish online list of orders in force would cost a government department no more than three to four hours of labour per month. It recommended such a system should be introduced, also specifying the details of the order.

However, there was a “lack of momentum to carry the proposal forward”.

She said the proposal raised questions of who should be able to access such a database, what it would cost for users, and longer term issues over the liability for breach of the orders on such a list (particularly if an order was left off the list).

Townend drew parallels with proposals in Australia for a restricted access with full details of suppression orders.

“The focus is very much on the media … but there is a broader question we need to make about public access,” she said.

“What if you are an ordinary member of the public? Should courts be obliged to share details of restrictions with the wider public?”

There are strong arguments for better data collation, she said.

“Systematic recording of injunctions would allow media and academic scrutiny of orders in different courts – types, reasons and frequency,” Townend explained.

“There would be practical benefits for reporters to help avoid inadvertent contempt and it would help inform legal policy development around contempt.”

Keynote address ‘Open Courts: Who Guards the Guardians?’ – former justice Philip Cummins

Suppression orders should only be made as a last resort, not as a first resort, former Supreme Court justice and Victorian Law Reform Commission chair Philip Cummins told the  ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney today.

cummins

Justice Philip Cummins

Quoting Kafka, Bentham and several higher court judgements, Justice Cummins said in his keynote address ‘Open Courts: Who Guards the Guardians?’ that it was the essence of the judicial process that it was public.

“The two functions of transparency of the justice system are that abuses may flourish undetected without it and it maintains the integrity of the courts. They are splendid principles often enunciated by the courts,” Justice Cummins said.

“The courts, rightly, have traditionally resisted pressure to function in private. Sometimes that pressure is from high motives, sometimes base… but it is ever present and must be resisted.

“It’s plain that courts cannot be open in every case. There are plainly justifications for courts to be closed.”

He cited sexual matters, terrorism trials and others involving safety of witnesses.

“Those categories are justifiable … in individual cases the orders are not justified even though the category has been made out,” he said.

“They need to be looked at on a case by case basis. The critical thing is that suppression orders should only be made as a last resort, not as a first resort.”

He labelled the path of reasoning required of judges under legislation when called upon to grant a suppression order was ‘erroneous reasoning’.

“It introduces a balancing of interests that should not be balanced – they are not equal,” he said.

He said instead there were key questions judges should consider:

  • orders shouldn’t be made if they were already covered by other legislation;
  • if the principle of sub judice applies. it would be erroneous if the principle of sub judice was replaced by suppression orders: “Sub judice needs to be protected by all of us. It would be a very profound error for suppression orders to take over the function of sub judice.”;
  • orders should not be made on therapeutic or prophylactic or prudential grounds instead of essential; and
  • there was a lack of understanding of the integrity of the jury system.

“We know that juries are robust. We know that they are living entities and that they see various things in the course of a trial,” he said.

“I have great confidence juries are robust and I think it is a profound mistake for judges to underestimate the robustness and integrity of juries.”

He said the gangland trials were over, but the question arises: “Has the culture changed?”

In some ways there was a judicial culture that worked against open justice. He said judges were usually supportive of open justice in principle – but sometimes until it came to the case at hand.

“If the culture of the courts is erroneous then the appeal system is not the solution. My tipstaff once said to me ‘whoever discovered water, it wasn’t a fish’,” he said.

But he rejected a suggestion by media lawyer Peter Bartlett that judges saw the media as a ‘nuisance’. Rather, Justice Cummins said, it was a question of priorities because their main goal was to ensure a fair trial.

“I do think that the judiciary is concerted in applying itself to these sorts of issues. In my 22 years on the bench not once was I let down by the media,” he said.

“Parliament has a significant role to play in advancing open justice,” he said.

On the question of court public information officers, he said they had been very valuable and had not proven to be ‘second guessing’ the court as some naysayers had predicted before the role was introduced two decades ago.

“I think a media officer can perform a very valuable function,” he said.

Justice Cummins agreed a ‘two speed’ system of coverage of major criminal trials had developed with the mainstream media more shackled because of its broader coverage.

“With a lot of the technology that a lot of us have spoken about it is morphing into a new set of issues we have to be astute to,” he said.

Media lawyer Peter Bartlett said that issue was not necessarily a new one.

“Traditionally we have found that print media has been sued more often than radio or television,” he said.

“I think there is a two speed [system developing] in that mainstream media is sued far more often. There is an increasing number of actions against online sites or blogs but their level of circulation is restricted so their level of damage is restricted.”

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The media and suppression orders in Victoria: reporters’ experiences

The increase in suppression orders during the gangland trials in Victoria had not diminished since the trials finished, Digital News Editor at the Herald-Sun Elissa Hunt told the  ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney today.

fergusonShe was joined on a panel by Gina Rinehart biographer and Fairfax senior business writer Adele Ferguson (centre) who shared  her courtroom experiences on reporting under suppression – and senior journalist and documentary producer Sharon Davis (left).

“We do write in different ways as journalists now and have to think on our feet all the time and update for the web,” Hunt said.

“There’s not time to sit down with a lawyer and negotiate whether we can get away with this or that.

“You just had to know what you could or couldn’t say.

“Yesterday I did a dump of the suppression orders logged on our system this year and I counted 144. We’re on track for maybe 300 suppression orders this year.

“I’m not seeing a decrease in the number of orders.”

Ferguson said suppression orders take many forms. She cited the spent convictions provisions under the Crimes Act as an example of material that could not be published about a corporate regulation executive who had been in a partnership with a criminal history.

She mentioned the Gina Rinehart subpoena order against her demanding her sources last year where Steve Pennells from the West Australian was also served. Rinehart eventually backed down. She had two other subpoenas year as well.

Hunt explained the phenomenon of the ‘silent listing’ where courts would not reveal where a trial was being held, leaving reporters unable to engage lawyers to challenge the suppression.

When she queried such a silent listing she was told it was a security issue. She showed the symposium a form where people could apply to have their listings made silent under a practice direction from the Victorian Chief Magistrate.

Their outdated computer system meant courts could not use a pseudonym so the only way to keep their name off the list was the only mechanism to protect a witness.

Photos of victims that had been published many times were also suppressed by Victorian courts, Hunt said. In one case such a suppression was applied to a photo of a baby who was a high profile crime victim so juries were not prejudiced.

“I think it’s a worry we have so many judges who think the jury system is this fragile thing … our own judges don’t trust the system enough to let the jury do what they are meant to do,” she said.

Ferguson agreed with Davis  individuals are using the law more creatively to take advantage of the diminished resources of the major groups to challenge orders.

“It’s really time consuming and it’s costly and I think without doubt you are seeing more subpoenas issued and more defamation,” she said.

Hunt said: “The reality is that the only ones fighting a suppression order are the media. Unless they are doing it nobody else will be. We just can’t be there for all of them.”

She explained the complicated process involved in extracting material from the digital world once a suppression order or take down order has been issued.

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Media can’t afford to oppose as many suppression orders, says top media lawyer

Dwindling media resources have impacted on free expression because news organisations do not have the resources to oppose as many suppression orders as they did previously, Minter Ellison Lawyers partner Peter Bartlett told the  ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium at UTS Sydney today.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 10.14.48 AM

“It does not happen as much as it used to because the rivers of gold have evaporated,” he said.

Because the media is not there to oppose applications for suppression orders there was a risk more and more will be issued that go further than they should go.

Mr Bartlett is speaking on ‘Suppression Orders: A Fine Balance”, where he is examining topical case studies including The Rolf Harris trial, ‘Lawyer X’, Julian Assange and Oscar Pistorius.

Judges will say open justice is an important principle ‘but’ … and that ‘but’ is the problem, he said.

“The trouble is you get judges who quite rightly are focused on prepartion for the trial … that they do not spend enough time on whether an application for a suppression order should be granted and just go ahead and approve that order.

It is a difficult task for the judge in balancing the right to a fair trial and the right to free expression.

“There is no doubt that where there is a clash the right to a fair trial should take precedence.

“A proper instruction to a jury reduces the need for a suppression order in many cases.”

He commended recent Victorian legislation giving the media a right to appear to oppose suppression orders and making it clear there should be an end date to suppression orders. Previously it was difficult getting older suppression orders lifted because all the parties had to be found and brought to court. However, some recent suppression orders had been issued without the recommended end dates, he said.

He said there were at least four or five suppression orders issued each day in Victoria.

He was receiving many applications to take down historical articles because of their potential effect on a trial.

He noted the seeking of urgent injunctions by high profile wealthy individuals and linked this to the ‘reasonableness’ test for defamation defences which requires defendants to have sought a reply from the plaintiff prior to publication.

Three times in the past 18 months he had experienced injunctions being sought after an approach by a journalist to get a comment from a high profile individual about allegations against them.

This had sometimes led to long delays, including one example of a judge ordering a story be held from December until the next May so the matter could be tried.

He criticised the assumption of some judges that any media coverage would lead to an unfair trial.

He suggested the orders made against the Underbelly program in Victoria were futile because people found other means of access.

The Rolf Harris trial raised interesting issues where Australian newspapers could cover the trial which was suppressed in the UK but not put it on their websites. Fairfax newspapers included a warning to others not to publish the material online. The stories ran without a byline to avoid difficulties for the reporter sitting in the London court covering the trial.

Media law experts line up in Sydney for open justice seminar

It’s a stellar line-up of Australian media law experts with the welcome guest presentation from Judith Townend from the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism at City University, London, on ‘Transluscent justice? Digital and physical access to UK courts’.

Keynote speaker is the Hon. Philip Cummins, former Supreme Court judge and Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Chair of the Victoria Law Foundation and Chair of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Dr Tom Morton and I are speaking about progress with our research project on a forensic mental health patient we called ‘The Man Without A Name” because of restrictions on identifying people involved in NSW Mental Health Tribunal proceedings. Section 162 Mental Health Act (NSW) bans ID of anyone involved in either tribunal or forensic proceedings, with further requirements under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act. A breach can incur a fine of $5500 or a 12 month jail term. See my earlier blog on this and Tom’s Background Briefing piece by the same name for Radio National.

———–

Conference program:

Justice Open and Shut: Suppression orders and open justice in Australia and the UK

“There is one hell of a fight going on in Australia to preserve our free press. We are increasingly seeing the rich and powerful resort to litigation to pursue journalists’ sources or lodge defamation writs purely to stop the publication of stories and scare off the rest of the media.”

Nick McKenzie, Fairfax Media, 2014 Press Freedom Australia Address

The increasing use of suppression orders undermines fair and accurate reporting of the courts and the fundamental principle of open justice.  This workshop will explore the operations and impact of suppression orders on reporting in Australia and the UK.

A workshop for journalists, lawyers, academics and anyone with an interest in open justice, the media and freedom of the press.

The  conference schedule is now available.

Keynote address: ‘Open Courts: Who Guards the Guardians?’

Keynote speaker: Hon. Philip Cummins – former Supreme court judge and Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Chair of the Victoria Law Foundation and Chair of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Other speakers:

  • Peter Bartlett: Partner Minter Ellison, Chair of the Advisory Board at the Centre for Advanced Journalism ast Melbourne University. Author of the law precis for MEAA State of Pres Freedom in Australia. Bartlett has represented Fairfax media and others in relation to suppression orders. He will speak on the use of suppression orders and its impact on the media and journalism, the operation of take down laws and trends observed since the introduction of the new Acts.
  • Miiko Kumar: Barrister, Jack Shand Chambers and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney. Kumar appears regularly in applications for suppression orders on behalf of government agencies. She will provide an overview of the law relating to different forms of suppression orders, as well as recent cases involving Gina Rinehart and her attempted use of suppression orders in relation to court proceedings.
  • Judith Townend: Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University, London. Townend will speak on ‘Transluscent justice? Digital and physical access to UK courts’.
  • Academics and journalists Mark Pearson (Griffith) and Tom Morton (University of Technology, Sydney): Open justice, investigative journalism and forensic patients.
  • Elissa Hunt: has been a court and legal affairs reporter with the Herald-Sun in Victoria for more than 13 years.  Her work has been recognized through numerous awards from the Victorian Law Foundation, including the 2014 Law Foundation’s Reporter of the year on Legal Issues. Elissa has recently been appointed as the Digital News Editor.
  • Adele Ferguson: a multi-award winning senior business writer and columnist for the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and author of the best selling unauthorised biography Gina Rinehart: The Untold Story of the Richest Woman in the World. Prior to joining the Age and the SMH, Adele was a senior commentator with the Australian. She has also worked at BRW Magazine as deputy editor and chief business commentator, leading many major investigations into the corporate sector.
  • Jason Bosland: Deputy Director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School where he teaches communications and intellectual property law. He holds degrees from Melbourne and the London School of Economics. His primary research interests lie in media law, including defamation and privacy, open justice and the media, contempt of court and freedom of speech.

This workshop is hosted by the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and is supported by the Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, University of Technology, Sydney.

Media Enquiries:

Tom Morton tom.morton@uts.edu.au

Kate Burns kate@ruleoflaw.org.au

When

4 June 2014
10:00 am – 4:30 pm

Where

Venue: Mary Anne House, Level 3, 645 Harris St, Ultimo, Sydney.

—————

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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Justice Open and Shut – and the man without a name revisited

By MARK PEARSON

I’m looking forward to presenting with colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton from UTS (pictured) at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism’s ‘Justice Open and Shut’ Symposium this week.

MORTON

Dr Tom Morton

Below is the full program for the conference from the ACIJ website.

It’s a stellar line-up of Australian media law experts with the welcome guest presentation from Judith Townend from the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism at City University, London, on ‘Transluscent justice? Digital and physical access to UK courts’.

Keynote speaker is the Hon. Philip Cummins, former Supreme Court judge and Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Chair of the Victoria Law Foundation and Chair of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Dr Morton and I are speaking about progress with our research project on a forensic mental health patient we called ‘The Man Without A Name” because of restrictions on identifying people involved in NSW Mental Health Tribunal proceedings. Section 162 Mental Health Act (NSW) bans ID of anyone involved in either tribunal or forensic proceedings, with further requirements under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act. A breach can incur a fine of $5500 or a 12 month jail term.

See my earlier blog on this and Tom’s Background Briefing piece by the same name for Radio National.

We have won permission to name him in our academic writing – including on this blog – but I will hold back on that for today so I do not spoil the presentation for those attending on Wednesday.

I have previously compared the complex array of mental health reporting restrictions in Australia and New Zealand. (See here.)

In 2012 I compared three cases in WA, Victoria and the UK involving the identification of mental health patients. The case of Patient A has strong parallels with the Albert Lazlo Haines [pdf] case in the UK where a patient won an appeal to be named in reportage of his review proceedings.

This Australian case adds to that body of literature and is interesting from that media law perspective. It also interests us as an ethical case study, and we will be using it as the focus for an exploration of the application of the principles of ‘mindful journalism’ I have described previously.

———–

 

Conference program:

Justice Open and Shut: Suppression orders and open justice in Australia and the UK

“There is one hell of a fight going on in Australia to preserve our free press. We are increasingly seeing the rich and powerful resort to litigation to pursue journalists’ sources or lodge defamation writs purely to stop the publication of stories and scare off the rest of the media.”

Nick McKenzie, Fairfax Media, 2014 Press Freedom Australia Address

The increasing use of suppression orders undermines fair and accurate reporting of the courts and the fundamental principle of open justice.  This workshop will explore the operations and impact of suppression orders on reporting in Australia and the UK.

A workshop for journalists, lawyers, academics and anyone with an interest in open justice, the media and freedom of the press.

The  conference schedule is now available.

Keynote address: ‘Open Courts: Who Guards the Guardians?’

Keynote speaker: Hon. Philip Cummins – former Supreme court judge and Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Chair of the Victoria Law Foundation and Chair of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Other speakers:

  • Peter Bartlett: Partner Minter Ellison, Chair of the Advisory Board at the Centre for Advanced Journalism ast Melbourne University. Author of the law precis for MEAA State of Pres Freedom in Australia. Bartlett has represented Fairfax media and others in relation to suppression orders. He will speak on the use of suppression orders and its impact on the media and journalism, the operation of take down laws and trends observed since the introduction of the new Acts.
  • Miiko Kumar: Barrister, Jack Shand Chambers and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney. Kumar appears regularly in applications for suppression orders on behalf of government agencies. She will provide an overview of the law relating to different forms of suppression orders, as well as recent cases involving Gina Rinehart and her attempted use of suppression orders in relation to court proceedings.
  • Judith Townend: Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University, London. Townend will speak on ‘Transluscent justice? Digital and physical access to UK courts’.
  • Academics and journalists Mark Pearson (Griffith) and Tom Morton (University of Technology, Sydney): Open justice, investigative journalism and forensic patients.
  • Elissa Hunt: has been a court and legal affairs reporter with the Herald-Sun in Victoria for more than 13 years.  Her work has been recognized through numerous awards from the Victorian Law Foundation, including the 2014 Law Foundation’s Reporter of the year on Legal Issues. Elissa has recently been appointed as the Digital News Editor.
  • Adele Ferguson: a multi-award winning senior business writer and columnist for the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and author of the best selling unauthorised biography Gina Rinehart: The Untold Story of the Richest Woman in the World. Prior to joining the Age and the SMH, Adele was a senior commentator with the Australian. She has also worked at BRW Magazine as deputy editor and chief business commentator, leading many major investigations into the corporate sector.
  • Jason Bosland: Deputy Director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School where he teaches communications and intellectual property law. He holds degrees from Melbourne and the London School of Economics. His primary research interests lie in media law, including defamation and privacy, open justice and the media, contempt of court and freedom of speech.

This workshop is hosted by the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and is supported by the Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, University of Technology, Sydney.

Media Enquiries:

Tom Morton tom.morton@uts.edu.au

Kate Burns kate@ruleoflaw.org.au

When

4 June 2014
10:00 am – 4:30 pm

Where

Venue: Mary Anne House, Level 3, 645 Harris St, Ultimo, Sydney.

—————

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

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

#Hinch (@HumanHeadline), #Morcombe and open justice – lessons in media law

By MARK PEARSON

It is timely that in the space of a week we should see the Human Headline (@HumanHeadline) Derryn Hinch released from jail for a publication offence and a serial offender receive a life sentence for the sex murder of teenager Daniel Morcombe.

CatchingTheDevil(Morcombefrontpage14-3-14)C-M

Courier Mail front page 14-3-14

We learned yesterday after Brett Peter Cowan was convicted of that 2003 crime that he had served time twice earlier for similar offences.

He is exactly the kind of individual that Hinch wants placed on a public sex offender register for exactly the reason most talkback callers and social media commenters are asking this question: How can we release such individuals anonymously into our communities when we cannot be sure they will not strike again?

Hinch asked it again this morning:

Hinch became the first Australian journalist jailed this millennium for a publishing offence when he was jailed for 50 days refusing to pay a $100,000 fine for breaching a suppression order on the prior convictions of Adrian Ernest Bayley – the accused sex murderer of ABC worker Jill Meagher in Melbourne in 2012.

In 2011 he was sentenced to five months of home detention for publicly naming two sex offenders at a rally and on his website in defiance of such anonymity orders.

In 1987 he was jailed on a contempt of court charge after broadcasting the criminal record of a former priest Michael Glennon accused of child sex offences and implying his guilt in his high rating Melbourne radio program.

It was only by a 4-3 majority that the High Court later stopped short of overturning Glennon’s conviction on those sex charges on the grounds of Hinch prejudicing his fair trial. (Glennon died in jail this year.)

Journalists and media law students have much to learn from the events of the past week.

While the crimes themselves left a trail of human destruction, the Hinch and Morcombe stories make for ideal case studies in a media law module covering open justice, contempt of court and court reporting – the exact module my students will be starting next week.

They will get to research and debate these kinds of important questions that arise from the week’s events:

  • What public policy issues are at play that see a journalist jailed for reporting the past convictions of an individual convicted of a high profile crime?
  • What does such a penalty say about Australia’s standard of media freedom?
  • Why is Australia’s approach to this level of suppression different from that applying in the United States?
  • Why should the mainstream media be prevented from reporting such material when social media platforms and certain websites are full of it?
  • Why would Hinch’s blog and Twitter feed where he breached the suppression orders over Bayley not represent a ‘real risk of prejudice’ to the trial, when mainstream media coverage might do so?
  • How can juries be quarantined from such information and – if they can’t – why shouldn’t the media be allowed to publish it?
  • Do other methods of dealing with juries – judges’ instructions, training, sequestering etc – mean we no longer need to suppress such material?
  • Are the past offences of such criminals matters of such overwhelming social importance and public concern that suppression of the details should be considered contrary to the public interest?
  • Should the Courier-Mail’s front page heading of February 21, 2014 – ‘Daniel’s Killer’ – have forced the trial to be aborted? Should it be grounds for a sub judice contempt charge? Should it be grounds for Cowan’s appeal?
  • How can a journalist report upon such proceedings in an interesting and timely way while navigating the various restrictions that apply?
  • How ‘open’ should ‘open justice’ be in such high profile trials? Should cameras and smartphone recordings be allowed in court? Should tweeting and other social media usage be allowed in court?
  • Is it appropriate in the modern era of communication that a major television network has to rely on a presenter standing outside a courthouse relaying sentencing information to the audience from a court reporter on the inside via telephone?
  • How much social media commentary should be tolerated about such cases while an accused is facing trial?

I’m sure many other questions arise too – and would be keen for other educators, journalists, lawyers and students to use the Comments section here to pose them so my students can take them up in lecture and tutorial discussions.

———–

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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The Human Headline legacy – the jailed Hinch, suppression and free expression

By MARK PEARSON

Broadcaster, tweeter, blogger and veteran journalist Derryn Hinch – the self-proclaimed ‘Human Headline’ – has been released from jail after serving a 50 day sentence for breaching a suppression order. 

Derryn Hinch's 'Human Headline' blog - Countdown to Freedom

Derryn Hinch’s ‘Human Headline’ blog – Countdown to Freedom

Hinch had refused to pay a $100,000 fine over his blog and Twitter comments including suppressed background material on Adrian Ernest Bayley, accused of the Melbourne murder of Irish woman Jill Meagher.

Hinch has been jailed twice, fined and sentenced to home detention for his contemptuous reportage and commentary about sex offenders over more than a quarter of a century.

While much of the coverage of his prosecutions and trials has focused on his cavalier and principled stance in the vein of his ‘Human Headline’ moniker, he has also been responsible for a body of case law covering sub judice contempt, the naming of a child sexual assault victim and the defiance of suppression orders – in his television and talkback radio programs, blogs and Twitter feeds.

I am preparing a paper for the ANZCA conference in Melbourne in July, reporting on a legal and textual analysis of eight key Victorian and High Court cases involving Hinch as a party in 1986, 1987, 1996, 2011 and 2013.

It reviews these key cases involving Hinch as a defendant and an appellant since 1986 – including Magistrates, Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and two High Court judgments – and identifies the key media law principles shaped in the process.

It concludes that the Hinch legacy is far more significant than his shallow ‘Human Headline’ title suggests – and ventures into important human rights questions arising in the complex legal and moral terrain where free expression, the ‘public interest’ and the ‘public right to know’ compete with an accused’s right to a fair trial, an ex-prisoner’s right to rehabilitation and a child’s right to protection from sexual predators.

For example, Hinch’s appeal to the High Court over his contempt conviction in 1987 was unsuccessful but resulted in a broadening of the public interest defence to sub judice contempt.

His latest case offers an excellent summary of the relevant factors considered in deciding whether there is a real risk of prejudice to a trial, because Hinch was acquitted on a second contempt charge that his blog ‘had a tendency, or was calculated, to interfere with the due administration of justice in the trial of Bayley’.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye ruled that three factors combined to reduce the tendency of Hinch’s blogging to prejudice potential jurors: the small readership of the article, the period of delay between the publication of the article and the likely trial date of Bayley, and other prejudicial material about Bayley circulating in the media and social media at the time (para 114). While ‘highly prejudicial’, Justice Kaye had a ‘reasonable doubt’ in light of those three factors that the article would have prevented Bayley getting a fair trial.

I will post updates on this paper as the research and writing unfolds. Meanwhile, no matter what you think of Hinch’s bravado in his naming and shaming of sex offenders, at least this week we should be able to celebrate the release of an Australian journalist from jail.

———–

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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Filed under blogging, contempt of court, courts, free expression, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Press freedom, sub judice, suppression, Uncategorized

The man without a name to get one – a small victory for open justice

By MARK PEARSON

We have won a small victory for open justice by persuading the NSW Mental Health Tribunal to allow the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to use the name of a forensic patient in a Background Briefing program on Radio National next year.

**Update: Tom Morton’s radio documentary ‘The man without a name’ was aired on Radio National Background Briefing on April 20, 2014 and can be heard (and transcript read) here.

We later applied to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for permission to name the patient in our scholarly publications, including this research blog. The Tribunal granted that permission on May 9, 2014 after a hearing to consider our application on 20 March 2014.

We can now reveal that the patient is Mr Saeed Sayaf Dezfouli.

This publication is conditional upon this publication carrying this notice:

“Notice: It is an offence under the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW) section 162 to publish or broadcast the name of any person to whom a matter before the Mental Health Review Tribunal relates or who appears as a witness before the Tribunal in any proceedings or who is mentioned or otherwise involved in any proceedings under the Mental Health Act 2007 or the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990, unless consent has first been obtained from the Tribunal. The author has obtained such consent to publish Mr Dezfouli’s name.”

MORTON

Dr Tom Morton

[Earlier blog continued … ] Colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton from the University of Technology Sydney and I have been conducting an applied research project about publicity of mental health proceedings – centred upon the case of a Sydney patient who wishes to be identified in reportage on his situation.

We are presenting a progress report on our study at the Journalism Education Association of Australia annual conference in Mooloolaba, Queensland today (December 4, 2013).

Dr Morton is an accomplished radio journalist and has started work on the documentary to be aired in coming months. We are collaborating on the academic side of the project – using my research into mental health reporting and logging our ethical decision-making to create a documented mindful reflection on the project.

Dr Morton briefed ABC lawyer Hugh Bennett who presented our case for the identification of Patient A when we appeared before the Mental Health Tribunal in September.

Section 162 Mental Health Act (NSW) bans ID of anyone involved in either tribunal or forensic proceedings, with further requirements under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act. A breach can incur a fine of $5500 or a 12 month jail term.

A Supreme Court application for the identification of Patient A had failed in 2012 on technical grounds (A v Mental Health Review Tribunal (2012) NSWSC293).

The Tribunal’s consent to the identification of Patient A appears to be limited to the broadcast, so I am not naming him here.

Patient A is an Iranian refugee who until 2002 was employed at a government office in Sydney.

In 2002 he set fire to that building and a co-worker died of smoke inhalation.

In 2003 the Supreme Court of NSW found that Patient A was unfit to be tried for murder, and a jury subsequently found him not guilty of manslaughter by reason of mental illness. He is thus deemed a ‘forensic patient’ – a person whose health condition has led them to commit, or be suspected of, a criminal offence’ (AIHW, 2010, p. 140).

I have previously published compared the complex array of mental health reporting restrictions in Australia and New Zealand. (See here.)

Last year I compared three cases in WA, Victoria and the UK involving the identification of mental health patients. The case of Patient A has strong parallels with the Albert Lazlo Haines [pdf] case in the UK where a patient won an appeal to be named in reportage of his review proceedings.

This Australian case adds to that body of literature and is interesting from that media law perspective. It also interests us from an ethical perspective, and we will be using it as the focus for an exploration of the application of the principles of ‘mindful journalism’ I have described previously.

We plan to write an academic article on this process to date (the events leading to this Tribunal decision), followed by a research journalism output including an exegesis on mindful journalism ethics after Dr Morton’s Background Briefing documentary has been broadcast. Stay tuned.

———–

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 2013

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

My submission to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute on ID of sex crime victims

By MARK PEARSON

Here is my submission responding to the issues paper from the Tasmania Law Reform Institute – Protecting the Anonymity of Victims of Sexual Crimes.

For background to the inquiry, see my earlier blog here. It was triggered by this Hobart Mercury story (left).

—-

September 28, 2012

Submission in response to Issues Paper No 18 ‘Protecting the Anonymity of Victims of Sexual Crimes’

Please accept this personal submission in response to your issues paper, which I have prepared with research assistance from Bond University students enrolled in my media law and ethics subject. They have been required to read and discuss your report as part of an assignment for that subject and their scholarship and insights have informed the views I express here. I must stress, however, that this is a personal submission as an academic who teaches and researches in the field and my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, Bond University, or the international media freedom agency Reporters Without Borders, for whom I am the Australian representative.

By way of background, my research, teaching and industry consultancy focus on the interpretation of media law for journalists and other writers who might produce reportage as bloggers, ‘citizen journalists’ or social media users. I am co-author with barrister Mark Polden of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (4th edition, Allen & Unwin, 2011) and am sole author of Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued – A Global Guide to the Law for Anyone Writing Online (Allen & Unwin, 2012). I have conducted media law training for Fairfax Media journalists at the Launceston Examiner and the Burnie Advocate newspapers. Our Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy convened the national symposium ‘Courts and the Media in the Digital Era’ in 2011, which resulted in our co-edited book The Courts and the Media – Challenges in the Era of Digital and Social Media (Keyzer, Johnston and Pearson, Halstead Press, 2012). We are now collaborating with colleagues from other universities on a national research project examining the impact of social media upon the courts.

I have chosen to begin with some general observations about the tone and ambit of your issues paper before proposing a mechanism for reform.

Important contextual considerations

Issues Paper 18 is an excellent summary of comparative legislation and case law on the identification of sex crime victims. It canvasses numerous public policy issues at stake when contemplating a reform of s. 194K. However, it seems to demonstrate little understanding of media organisations’ news values and production values and does not acknowledge several important policy developments under way nationally and globally.

Journalists’ training

The paper offers a handful of examples where such laws have been breached by the news media in Australia, including only one in recent times in Tasmania that has proceeded to court. While we all would prefer there were no media breaches of identification laws, I suggest that court reporters are overwhelmingly aware of, and compliant with, both sub judice contempt guidelines and statutory reporting restrictions. This is due mainly to the media law education and training reporters receive in their university journalism degrees and in the workplace. Most media organisations also provide shorthand tuition to their staff and adhere to strict court reporting protocols where cases are followed through the court system and junior reporters ‘shadow’ experienced colleagues before starting on the round. One of the fundamental topics all court reporters learn is that there are restrictions on the identification of children and sexual assault victims involved in proceedings.

News values, open justice and the role of court reporting

Your issues paper devotes a small section to the principle of ‘open justice’ which quite rightly quotes important jurists and international human rights documents and legislation enshrining it (Part 2.1). Yet, it implies news organisations are motivated primarily by commercial interest when reporting upon the courts. At 4.3.3, your paper states: “Media outlets have an obvious interest in publishing material that will attract readers or viewers. A story that identifies the victim of sexual assault is likely to attract greater consumer interest than one that does not. There is a strong incentive for the media to publish such details.” I am aware of no research supporting this assertion and my informed view is that editors, sub-editors and court reporters strive to abide by the legal restrictions and ethical obligations forbidding identification. On rare occasions that determination is tested in the heat of competition for a particularly unusual story or one involving a celebrity – but such occasions have become even less common in the wake of strong national and international scrutiny of such media behaviour. It is, however, a mistake to view this story of this 12-year-old Tasmanian girl prostituted by her mother and the named accused as one of simply the media feeding a public titillation with sordid sexual detail. The story indeed featured the news values of ‘unusualness’ and sheer ‘human interest’ – but it also had the important public news value of what we call ‘consequence’ or ‘impact’ – many of which concern public policy benefits of the reportage of such matters.

Public policy benefits of media reportage of sexual and juvenile cases

There is a principle as ancient and as inherent in a democracy as open justice – and that is the role of the news media as the ‘Fourth Estate’. Key public policy reviews and reforms have ensued in Tasmania after this incident, and I suggest they might not have garnered the political traction to proceed if the public had been kept ignorant of the matters before the courts. These have included your own review of the defence of ‘mistake as to age’ and other important reviews of child protection. In short, court reporting by the news media and the public discussion and scrutiny it generates can fulfil many important functions in society beyond sheer entertainment; including deterrence from crime, education about justice, transparency of process, and as a watchdog on injustice and deficient public policy. Closed proceedings – or complex requirements involving media applications to cover certain matters – pose serious risks to such positive public policy outcomes.

Free expression and freedom of the press

A close relative of the principle of ‘open justice’ in a democracy is the human right of free expression and its derivative – freedom of the press. Your paper does not mention this principle, but it is crucial to note when comparing reporting restrictions across jurisdictions that Australia is unusual among western democracies in that it has no written constitutional guarantee of free expression or a free media. Each of the foreign jurisdictions your paper uses for comparison on sexual reporting restrictions – the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand – features such a guarantee in a charter of rights. Australia and Tasmania have no such statutory or constitutional mechanisms in place, which is an important point of difference because proposed restrictions trigger no formalised process of review on free expression grounds and courts here are not obliged to weigh free expression against other rights in their determinations. (There is, however, an argument that court reporting restrictions might breach the High Court’s implied constitutional freedom to communicate on matters of politics and government; see Nationwide News v. Wills [1992] HCA 46; (1992) 177 CLR 1).

Media ethics and regulation

I realise the your document focuses on the narrow question of whether S. 194K should be reformed, but highly relevant is the likelihood of media organisations being motivated to use a perceived legal ‘loophole’ to identify a vulnerable individual such as a child who has been subjected to sexual abuse. Such a motivation would represent a serious breach of the privacy provisions of the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics and all self-regulatory and co-regulatory codes of practice in place throughout print, broadcast, television and online news media industries – including in-house codes, those of the Australian Press Council and the numerous broadcast sector codes ultimately policed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The question of media adherence to such codes has been the subject of two major inquiries in the form of the Convergence Review and its subsidiary Independent Media Inquiry chaired by former Federal Court justice Ray Finkelstein – the recommendations of which are currently under consideration by the Federal Government. Regardless of whether they are adopted, an impact has been significant attempts by the news media to get their own ‘houses in order’ to avoid the prospect of strict government regulation of their ethical practices and complaints systems. The Australian Press Council has implemented significant improvements to its processes. All of this has been against the international backdrop of the UK inquiries into serious ethical and legal breaches by the Murdoch-owned News of the World newspaper.

Privacy regulation and factors impacting media privacy intrusion

Related to this inquiry have been important developments in the area of privacy law and regulation. You would be aware that the Commonwealth Government has already implemented privacy law reforms recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission Report 108: For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/report-108). The Gillard Government is reported to be seriously considering a recommendation for a statutory tort of invasion of privacy. Whether or not that is implemented, your own issues paper at p. 14 cites the case of Doe v. ABC (2007) VCC 282, where a journalist’s identification of a sexual assault victim led to both criminal charges and a civil suit where damages were awarded for the privacy invasion of the victim. Although this was an intermediate court decision, it stands as a precedent in a developing body of judge-made privacy law. Significant too is the ACMA’s 2011 review of its privacy guidelines (http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_410273) for broadcasters which included important changes in the way broadcast media should deal with vulnerable interviewees, particularly children. The submission from an ARC Vulnerability Linkage Grant project on which I was a chief investigator seems to have been influential in helping frame these new provisions. (See our submission to that ACMA inquiry at http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib410086/ifc28-2011_arc_linkage_grant.pdf ).  In short, my view is that media outlets are working to a higher level of internal, industry and public accountability when dealing with the vulnerable (particularly children) than they were two years ago when this court proceeding was reported.

The Internet, social media and the Tasmanian jurisdiction

Your issues paper makes some mention of the Internet, primarily with regard to the terminology and scope of s 194K at 5.4.2, but it mentions social media only as a footnote on page 32. My informed opinion, drawing upon research for my most recent book and for our courts and social media project at Bond University’s Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy, is that it would be a grave error to proceed to legislative reform without due consideration of the extraordinary ways in which social media has changed the capacity for ordinary citizens to become publishers about court proceedings. Importantly, this allows for the exact reverse situation to occur in a trial to what happened in this case. Instead of the traditional media revealing, albeit indirectly, the identity of a child sexual crime victim to people who might otherwise not know her, social media allows for those who know the victim to reveal her identity to the wider world via their networks of Facebook ‘friends’ and Twitter ‘followers’. Here you are dealing with ordinary citizens who may be completely ignorant of legal restrictions on identifying such victims and may even be relying on second hand information from court proceedings they have not even attended. The reality is that the advent of social media means that  no tightening of restrictions such as those found in s.194K will be totally effective in protecting the identity of anyone involved in court proceedings – no matter how compliant journalists from traditional media might be. Web 2.0 means that secrets – particularly interesting ones – will not often be revealed, and those revealing them might not be identifiable or answerable. It has led to what I describe as a “two-speed” suppression regime in our justice systems – effectively one rule for traditional media and a different rule for citizens using social media who sometimes have an even larger audience than news outlets for their gossip and innuendo. For a recent example of this, see the remarkable situation where the mainstream media was prevented from reporting that the acting police minister faced serious sexual charges under the Evidence Act 1929, s 71A – but his name was all over the Internet and social media (See http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/bernard-finnigans-name-was-all-over-the-internet-despite-suppression-order/story-e6frea83-1226480605607 and https://journlaw.com/2011/05/04/south-australias-antiquated-sex-id-law/ ).

A feature of Internet searches is that Google searches for certain terms group the results, leading to possible identification via a combination of factors across different results, whereas any single publication would not identify a victim. Similarly, an individual’s Facebook page or Twitter profile will list their ‘friends’ or associates, allowing social media to link an unnamed victim with a named accused if they have a close relationship. These factors present a challenge for reform of such legislation. A bizarre aspect of your inquiry is that the Law Reform Institute has in fact repeated the sin of the Mercury by itself republishing the name of the accused male offender, his suburb and his relationship to the girl in its own Issues Paper, which appears quite readily in a Google search on the matter. Further, it draws attention by headline to the actual article that has triggered the inquiry, thus facilitating readers to access the very material that identifies the victim. It is sad and ironic that someone who knew the family and those basic facts might well discover the victim’s identity via the Institute’s very own document.

The paper also seems to take a pre-Internet approach to jurisdictional sovereignty, suggesting that Tasmania’s reach might extend beyond its island borders to ‘the entire world’ (4.3.9). While the state might well achieve such reach in the most serious offences via extradition agreements, I suggest it is counter-productive and unrealistic to entertain the notion that a Tasmanian identification prohibition is going to have any real effect on individuals publishing material on the Internet from beyond the State’s borders.

Court closure and judicial censorship are a threat to open justice

Completely closing the court in such proceedings would be a draconian and retrograde step, counter to the principle of open justice and damaging to the important public policy outcomes I mentioned earlier in this submission. I understand the detailed mention in the Mercury article of the sexually transmitted diseases the girl had contracted was a special concern of those who wanted the DPP to press charges in this matter. Yet there is strong argument that there could be important public policy outcomes from the publication of such graphic details; such as deterring prostitution clients from engaging in unprotected intercourse and the incentive for the numerous clients in this case to seek treatment to prevent their spread through the broader community. A closed court would prevent such public messages being conveyed.

Just as concerning is the censorship regime proposed in Option 3, requiring at 5.2.4 “that the media outlet provide details of what they intend to publish to assist the court in determining whether to grant the order”. The following sentence reads like a dictum from a despotic regime on the Reporters Without Borders watch list: “The court could then decide whether to allow publication of the whole piece, some parts of the piece or to deny publication altogether”. Such an approach is anathema in a state of a progressive western democracy like Australia. It would breach the ancient rule against ‘prior restraint’ – defended so eloquently by the first Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Francis Forbes against Governor Darling in 1826 (See Spigelman, J., 2002 at http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/supreme_court/ll_sc.nsf/vwPrint1/SCO_speech_spigelman_201103).

My suggested mechanism for reform of s. 194K

Rather than debating the pros and cons of the various options foreshadowed in your paper, I will instead propose a workable solution that will minimise the likelihood of the recurrence of the circumstances that occurred in this case. As I suggested above, there is now no watertight legislative or procedural way to be absolutely certain of protecting the anonymity of victims of sexual crimes.

Your paper offered an excellent summary of sexual case reporting restrictions in Australia and in comparable foreign jurisdictions, but seemed to ignore the similar identification laws that apply to the identification of children in proceedings. The case prompting this inquiry involved both a juvenile and a sexual matter, which of course prompts the highest level of caution with identification. Our text, The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (with Mark Polden, Allen & Unwin, 2011) features comparative tables of both juvenile and sexual proceedings reporting restrictions (at pp. 160-162 and pp.156-158 respectively). I feel S 104C of the NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 offers a promising solution in the form of a news media privilege to attend proceedings for reporting purposes:

104C   Entitlement of media to hear proceedings

At any time while the Children’s Court is hearing proceedings with respect to a child or young person, any person who is engaged in preparing a report of the proceedings for dissemination through a public news medium is, unless the Children’s Court otherwise directs, entitled to enter and remain in the place where the proceedings are being heard.

The news media have traditionally been extended certain privileges in courts as the ‘eyes and the ears’ of the broader citizenry – reserved seating at a press bench, access to court papers, and sometimes even standing to make a submission on a court order (Evidence Act (SA) s. 69A(5).) In NSW they are allowed to attend and report upon children’s court proceedings – but are of course expected to comply with identification restrictions. This is sensible, given journalists’ training in media law and court reporting matters and their understanding that it is only a privilege that a judicial officer might choose to withdraw. All this also prompts questions about the role and entitlements of reporters from non-traditional media – bloggers and ‘citizen journalists’ – who might choose to cover certain trials and report upon them on social media or upon specially constructed crime websites devoted to high profile proceedings. I suggest procedures could be applied to require ‘citizen journalists’ to satisfy the court that they deserve such a media privilege on a case-by-case basis.

In summary, and without extended further explanation, my proposal is:

  • Close the courts in matters involving children and sexual assault victims to the broader citizenry to limit social media ‘leakage’ of matters such as identification;
  • Allow authorised news media representatives to attend and report with the following identification restrictions;
  • Tighten the identification wording so that indirect identification is less likely. Prohibit the naming of the victim, of course. Require the court to rule upon the other identifying factors allowable in the particular case, with the working principle that a combination of factors does not identify the victim. (For example, allow her suburb and her age to be published if the suburb is populous enough, but not the sporting organisation of which she is a member.) Also prohibit visual identification of the accused in sexual assault cases where the accused has had an ongoing relationship with the victim (not necessary where the assault has been an attack by a stranger) so that those who have seen the accused with the victim do not identify her by this means.
  • Prohibit all photographs or footage of the victim being published or broadcast – even those pixelated or obscured in any way. (This practice is flawed.)

My final comments address two important points related to journalists. Firstly, I suggest there are excellent public policy reasons why victims should be permitted to self-identify as sexual assault victims at a reasonable time after proceedings have ended. I am not a psychologist, but I float the suggestion that a period of two years after the completion of proceedings might be a time when some victims might feel able to give ‘informed consent’ to a media outlet to tell their story – and that such a story could itself have major public policy benefits. Given that abuses of such a privilege are rare in jurisdictions that allow it, I suggest it be worded so that it is enough that the victim gives the journalist his or her permission in writing for publication, and that the onus of proof be on the prosecutor to demonstrate that the journalist “knew, or should have known” that the consent was not “informed” by the condition of the victim at the time and that financial inducements be prohibited.

Secondly, I offer my strong view that any penalties for breach of the reformed statute be dealt with as an offence against the statute itself, and with a fine and not a jail term. Breaches have been so rare in the past and are usually accidental, and it is an affront to democracy when states jail journalists for publishing offences. Contempt powers, particularly those wielded by superior court judges, are far too broad to justify their application to this type of publishing error.

I wish you well with your deliberations on this important matter and would be pleased to offer any further assistance if you should require it.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Mark Pearson

© Mark Pearson 2012

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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Tasmanian sex case ID proposals under scrutiny

By MARK PEARSON

An issues paper from the Tasmania Law Reform Institute – Protecting the Anonymity of Victims of Sexual Crimes – raises so many issues of relevance to my media law and ethics class that I have built a problem-based learning assignment around it.

The inquiry was triggered by coverage in the Hobart Mercury (see picture) in 2010 of prostitution of a 12-year-old girl by her mother and her mother’s male friend.

While the Mercury anonymised the identity of the girl and her mother, it named the accused male and listed several details that might have led readers with some knowledge of the accused or the family to identify the victim.

The barrister appointed as the girl’s representative in her care and protection proceedings, Mr Craig Mackie, wanted the newspaper charged for breach of the legislation prohibiting the identification of a sex crime victim (s194K of the Evidence Act 2001).

But the prosecutor’s office refused to act, arguing the identification was too indirect to breach the provision. Mr Mackie also sits on the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute board, and he referred the matter to that body for its review.

The issues paper covers some of the key topic areas covered in our media law and ethics subject –free expression, open justice, contempt of court, court reporting restrictions and privacy.

As part of our problem-based learning task, some students might file their own submissions before the September 28 deadline, while others will use their research to inform a reflective paper they submit as a class assignment a week later.

I might draw upon some of their research and insights in my personal submission to the inquiry – with due recognition to their efforts.

Media law tragics will find the Institute’s issues paper compelling reading.

On the one hand, it offers in a relatively brief 52 pages an excellent comparison of reporting restrictions in sexual crimes across several jurisdictions including most Australian states and the UK, New Zealand and Canada.

It also summarises the key cases in the field and quotes some of the leading judgments on the principle of open justice.

Yet my own submission will call into question several assumptions and gaps in the Issues Paper, including:

–       Evidence of anti-media language and stance, betraying a fundamental assumption that journalists are out to expose sexual assault victims despite there being relatively few cases where they have done so (often accidentally).

–       An old world ignorance of the advent of social media, citizen journalism and blogging, which have complicated the 20th century approach to regulating news media coverage of sex crime cases.

–       A similar pre-Internet approach to jurisdiction, seemingly working from the premise that publications about such matters are contained within Tasmanian borders.

–       Disregard of the fact that the Commonwealth Government is considering major reform proposals on privacy law and media regulation, all of which are relevant to the media’s exploitation and exposure of vulnerable victims of sex crimes.

–       Floating an extraordinarily proposition for prior restraint in such matters – that the media be totally banned from covering sexual cases and that a court should review and censor any proposed story about such a case pre-publication.

–       Ignoring the fact that free expression has no constitutional guarantee in this country – unlike in all of the foreign jurisdictions used as a yardstick for comparison, each of which features either a constitutional guarantee or one contained in a bill or charter of rights.

A bizarre aspect of the inquiry is that the Law Reform Institute has in fact repeated the sin of the Mercury by itself republishing the name of the accused male offender, his suburb and his relationship to the girl in its own Issues Paper, which appears quite readily in a Google search on the matter.

It is ironic that someone who knew the family and those basic facts might well discover her identity via the Institute’s very own document.

I’ll publish my submission in a future blog.

© Mark Pearson 2012

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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