Court suppression orders under scrutiny

Court suppression orders under scrutiny

Media organisations will have greater powers to challenge restrictions to reporting of court proceedings following a deal struck between the Federal Government and an independent senator.

Reform of court suppression orders was a concession won by Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm in return for his support of a separate piece of legislation.

Suppression orders are used to prevent the reporting of material that may pervert the course of justice, or adversely affect participants such as minors. The news media industry has long argued that they are over-used, particularly in Victoria.

Senator Leyonhjelm said they impeded open justice.

“Suppression orders are often made by courts without any opposing argument and with broad scope and unnecessarily lengthy duration,” he said in an email interview with NewsMediaWorks.

The Commonwealth will take a lead role in reforming suppression order regimes across jurisdictions to ensure orders are specific, suppress only necessary information and have a stated time limit.

The Victorian Government announced last month it would review its suppression order laws to ensure they strike a balance between privacy, fairness of court proceedings and the public’s right to know.

Senator Leyonhjelm said he hoped to build on the Victorian move. “We are realistic that we can only do so much with federal legislation. Our hope is that if the federal jurisdiction takes the lead, the states will follow,” he said.

The Federal Government has also committed to reviewing the suppression order regime of courts in the federal jurisdiction although this would exclude subject-specific regimes such as family and children’s cases, and national security cases.

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