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Laws of contempt need reform, says Law Institute of Victoria

Laws of contempt need reform, says Law Institute of Victoria

By LIV Media


The Law Institute of Victoria has called for wide ranging reform of the laws around contempt of court, to protect fair trials while supporting free speech.

LIV President Stuart Webb said the current laws were confusing and ambiguous and allowed for potentially unlimited prison terms if breached.

“We are concerned at the almost unfettered range of contempt laws, which include unlimited sentencing power.

“The law is not clear, and this can create a chilling effect on proper public scrutiny and comment on the work of our courts,” he said.

Mr Webb said the LIV accepted that the right to a fair trial was paramount, and laws were necessary to protect that.

“However there is significant uncertainty about what kind of conduct might be liable to a conviction and punishment for contempt, when contempt is entirely up to the discretion of an individual judge,” he said.

The Law Institute of Victoria has made 22 recommendations in a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of Contempt of Court, Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 and Enforcement Processes.

Recommendations include:

  • Common law of contempt of court must be abolished and replaced by statutory provisions
  • A maximum penalty for contempt should be introduced
  • Laws should be uniform across Australia
  • Sub-judice contempt should be reformed
  • A public interest defence should be implemented
  • An upper limit for fines imposed for sub-judice contempt should be introduced and jail terms removed as a potential penalty
  • The offence of scandalising the court should be abolished.

Mr Webb said it was important that the community, and the media, were aware of the kind of conduct would lead to conviction and punishment for contempt.

“The broad and discretionary nature of the courts power has created significant uncertainty surrounding the law of contempt. The LIV is concerned that it is currently impossible to know what conduct might lead to conviction and punishment for contempt.

“What one judge considers contempt may not be considered contempt by another. This is clearly unsatisfactory,” he said.

For the full list of recommendations and the submission see the LIV website.

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