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Suppression orders protect innocent accused

Suppression orders protect innocent accused

By Karin Derkley

Courts Sentencing 


Proposed changes to suppression laws are “reactive nonsense”, and accused people found innocent may be harmed if it becomes harder for courts to stop media identifying them during a trial, says criminal lawyer Bill Doogue.

The Victorian state government is in the process of amending existing laws to reinforce the presumption in favour of open justice and the disclosure of information in its courts.

Under the Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2019, suppression and closed court orders will only be able to be used when necessary, such as where publishing information would be a substantial risk to the administration of justice or cause undue distress to a victim or risk the safety of any person.

Mr Doogue, a member of the LIV’s Criminal Law Section and director of Doogue + George, says the proposed overhaul “is just taking us a step further back in my opinion”.

There is nothing to be gained by giving media outlets more freedom to inform the public of a case prior to it finishing, he says. “If we’re trying to strike the balance between fairness to a person and open courts, what is the benefit to the public of letting them start reading about a case prior (to a conviction)? How does that actually help anyone?”

“I’ve had clients who have been charged in a blaze of publicity – and then if the case doesn’t even go to trial because they’ve got the wrong person or the facts are completely wrong, their life is absolutely shattered." It is rare for media to publicise that a person charged with offence has been acquitted, he says.

"I can’t see that it harms the public for a suppression order to be in place, if at the end of a trial it is then announced that the person has been convicted of such and such an offence."

LIV Criminal Law Section co-chair Melinda Walker says there remains a need for appropriate limitations to the public’s right to know in order to ensure that proceedings remain fair to the accused in criminal cases.

“This is a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system and one that every member of our community is entitled to should they find themselves in the unenviable position of an accused,” she says.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission has been asked by the state government to review contempt of court laws and enforcement of suppression orders, and this week issued a consultation paper seeking input on the review.

The LIV is calling for contributions to its submission to the review. To contribute, contact the Criminal Law Section on
9607 9382 or email

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