‘State of secrecy’ review into court suppression orders

The state’s regional residents are being asked about the effectiveness of suppression orders in towns where locals are more aware of court proceedings, as part of a review into whether South Australia is a “state of secrecy”.

Aug 03, 2023, updated Aug 03, 2023
An extensive review into South Australia's court room suppression orders is underway. Image: Moodboard

An extensive review into South Australia's court room suppression orders is underway. Image: Moodboard

The South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALR) is meeting lawyers, journalists, victim support services and residents  in Mount Gambier tomorrow in its suppression order review that has also taken in Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

Institute deputy director David Plater said the review funded by the Law Foundation of SA also covers Adelaide and comes after concerns were raised about “the perception that SA has an inordinate number of suppression orders” and the “perception that SA is a state of secrecy”.

“We have numbers that seem to suggest that SA, particularly among head of population, has a high number of suppression orders,” Plater said.

“The topic of suppression orders just keeps coming up in our work in SA, is it truly the suppression order state?”

SALR figures show the highest number of suppression orders in 20 years occurred in South Australia during 2020-2021 with 268 – the trend continuing into the following year with 351 suppression orders.

Plater said the high number may not be a problem but a review was launched into whether the balance between open justice and other competing interests to protect the rights of defendants and victims was being met.

The University of Adelaide-based institute’s review will also explore the effectiveness of suppression orders when the internet and social media can interfere with proceedings.

Plater pointed to the issues surrounding the trial of former Cardinal George Pell where media could not report on court proceedings in Australia due to a suppression order.

However, Australians could read stories about the case online that were published overseas.

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He said discretionary and automatic suppression orders had an important role in ensuring the right to a fair trial but the review would consider if the current balance was right.

Automatic suppression orders, for example, prohibit the publication of an alleged accused or victim of a sexual offence, or the identity of a child or youth alleged to have committed an offence.

The institute’s consultation paper around the role and operation of suppression orders in SA said there were many “positive features” but “the number of suppression orders made in SA, notably by lower courts, continues to arouse concerns and is a prevailing and contentious feature of suppression orders in SA”.

Walk-in sessions for members of the public in Mount Gambier are being held from 5:15pm to 6:30pm on today, Thursday August 3, and also on Friday August 4, from 2:15pm to 3:30pm at Commodore on the Park.

“SALRI is committed to an impartial, active and inclusive process of gathering the views of people in Adelaide but especially in regional SA,” Plater said.

“Suppression orders affect accused persons, victims, witnesses, litigants, the courts, the legal profession, the media, and the community in unique ways, so we want to hear from people from a variety of backgrounds.

“We want to get an understanding of their views on the role and operation of suppression orders, the ways in which the present law and practice can be improved.”

SALRI aims to have completed its final report and to have released it to the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice, the Law Society of South Australia and the Law Foundation of South Australia by January 31, 2024.

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