Australian media could face multiple Pell contempt trials

Journalists and media organisations could face more than a dozen separate contempt trials over the publication of details about George Pell’s conviction.

May 26, 2020, updated May 26, 2020
Catholic Cardinal George Pell surrounded by media during his 2019 trial in Melbourne. Photo: AAP/David Crosling

Catholic Cardinal George Pell surrounded by media during his 2019 trial in Melbourne. Photo: AAP/David Crosling

Pell was convicted behind closed doors on five child sexual abuse charges in December 2018 – and acquitted by the High Court this year.

Suppression orders in place because of a pending second trial, which was later dropped, meant his conviction could not be reported until months later.

But a number of media outlets published information about the conviction of a high-profile Australian and referenced court orders.

Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC has charged 11 corporations and 19 individuals with contempt over the publications, including The Advertiser in Adelaide and one of its editors.

Barrister Matt Collins QC, who is representing all 30 accused, told Victoria’s Supreme Court on Tuesday multiple trials are likely to be sought.

“At present it appears to us there are 13 separate controversies and on the face of it, it would to an injustice to have journalists for rival news organisations to face trial at the same time,” he said on Tuesday.

All would be heard by a judge alone.

Collins said his clients were anxious for the case to be resolved.

“They’ve had these matters hanging over their heads for far too long,” he said.

Justice John Dixon agreed the case, which has been going for more than a year, was dragging on too long.

He noted it seemed the parties hadn’t agreed to any facts in the case, noting the prosecution argument that Pell was a high-profile Australian hadn’t been accepted by the defence.

But Collins said while that seemed an uncontroversial statement, the status of Pell’s profile in Darwin, Perth or anywhere else outside Victoria was irrelevant to the case.

He said given the serious contempt charges being faced, they couldn’t admit such a bold allegation.

But prosecution lawyer Lisa De Ferrari SC said the suppression orders over the case applied Australia-wide, so it was relevant.

If convicted, organisations face significant fines while individuals face up to five years in prison.

Collins previously described the charges as “serious as it gets” said guilty findings could have a “chilling effect” on open justice.

Dixon listed November 9 for the first trial, but flagged the possibility it could happen sooner.

“I’ve got a holiday booked in Spain in September – so I’ll be around,” he joked.

“We’ll just have to juggle this and see how we go, but let’s keep it moving forward.”

The media outlets, editors and reporters accused of contempt

The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd

Charis Chang, senior reporter

News Life Media Pty Ltd

Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd

Sam Weir, Courier-Mail editor

The Geelong Advertiser Pty Ltd

Andrew Piva, Geelong Advertiser digital editor

Nationwide News Pty Ltd

Ben English, Daily Telegraph editor

Lachlan Hastings, News Corp online editor

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Advertiser Newspapers Pty Ltd

Michael Owen-Brown, Adelaide Advertiser digital editor

The Age Company Pty Ltd

Alex Lavelle, The Age editor

Patrick O’Neil, The Age news editor

Michael Bachelard, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor, The Age investigations editor

Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd

Lisa Davies, Sydney Morning Herald editor

Michael Stutchbury, Australian Financial Review editor-in-chief

Patrick Durkin, Australian Financial Review Melbourne bureau chief Pty Ltd

Jessica Chambers, Mamamia content producer

Allure Media Pty Ltd

Simon Thomsen, former Business Insider associate editor

Macquarie Media Limited

Chris Smith, 2GB broadcaster

Nine Entertainment Co Pty Ltd

Lara Vella, Today reporter

Christine Ahern, Today reporter

Deborah Knight, Today host

Source: Supreme Court of Victoria – job descriptions above as they were at the time of the alleged offences


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