Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has appeared before the High Court of
Australia seeking to overturn charges against him relating to his
public "outing" of sex offenders.
In September 2008 Hinch was charged with five offences pursuant
to the now repealed Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act 2005
(Vic) (Act). Charges were brought against Hinch in the
Magistrates' Court after he named two sex offenders at a public
rally in June 2008, and published the men's names on the
internet in contravention of a suppression order that had been made
in the County Court of Victoria.
A hearing before the Magistrates' Court in February 2010 was
adjourned after Hinch sought to argue that the legislation
governing suppression orders was constitutionally invalid.
The High Court of Australia subsequently agreed to hear
Hinch's constitutional arguments.
The relevant parts of the Act provided that the court, if
satisfied it is in the public interest to do so, may order that any
information that might enable an offender or another person who has
appeared or given evidence in the proceeding to be identified, must
not be published except in the manner and to the extent (if any)
specified in the order. It is also stated that a person must not
publish or cause to be published any material in contravention of
an order under the Act.
The issues to be determined by the High Court turned on whether
the relevant parts of the Act are constitutionally invalid. Hinch
argued that the relevant parts of the Act are:
repugnant to an implication in the Constitution that State
courts must exercise their judicial power in a manner that does not
diminish the institutional integrity of the judiciary
contrary to an implication in the Constitution and the common
law principle that courts must be open to the public and carry out
their activities in public
contrary to the implied freedom of political communication in
inhibit the ability to criticise legislation and its
application in the courts
seek legislative and constitutional changes via amendments in
court practice and the release of factual data concerning court
The increased use of suppression orders in Victoria1
has attracted recent criticism, including from retired Victorian
Supreme Court Judge Philip Cummins, who cautioned against their
growing use, emphasising such orders should be limited to those
cases where they were a necessity. Although the Standing Committee
of Attorneys-General has endorsed model provisions harmonising the
laws of suppression and non-publication orders, his Honour
expressed concern that these model provisions, if enacted, could
further encourage the use of suppression orders.
Suppression orders have also been a significant issue in a
recent dispute between the Victorian Police and publisher Hardie
Grant. Victoria Police threatened the publisher with legal action
after it published the names of four people who were the subject of
a suppression order in a "tell all" book about police
corruption. Hardie Grant removed the book from sale in Victoria,
however objected to Victoria Police's arguments, stating that
the information, the subject of the suppression order, was now
available to the public through such websites as Austlii.
We will update you further once the High Court of Australia
hands down its decision in Hinch's case.
1. A conference in Melbourne last week on jury reform was
told that between early 2006 and June 2008, Victoria had 627
reported suppression orders, whereas NSW had just 54.
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