Opinion

Let court process run its course

By Cameron Whiteley

Recently I wrote in these pages about how the use of social media has created problems with inaccurate reports on events and incidents made by people from outside mainstream media.

The issue undoubtedly extends to suppression orders which are put in place by courts.

Often this is the case when someone’s name, or other significant detail, is suppressed during a court case.

Sometimes there can be suppression orders on suppression orders, which prohibit media from publishing that there is even one in place at all.

It’s something that often frustrates media, especially mastheads in some of Australia’s biggest cities, who have recently protested against them on high-profile cases.

But ultimately, court orders must be adhered to. Breaching them is a serious offence. Information contained in court reports will likely always not please at least someone.

For example, evidence presented in court or prosecution summaries of an incident may not match up to the recollections or version of events of others.

But the rules are very clear about reporting only what is presented in court, something which is especially magnified during the course of a criminal trial.

To say doing otherwise is dangerous would be a gross understatement, and opens up a high likelihood of journalists and editors being hit with contempt of court proceedings.

Indeed, a Melbourne murder trial was aborted in recent years because information was published by news organisation Yahoo7 during the trial that had not been presented to the jury.

Yahoo7 was fined $300000 as a result while the journalist involved was convicted of contempt of court.

The issue of individuals who are not connected to a media organisation posting suppressed information on social media is far from being black and white, though.

It’s this vigilantism, often via anonymous accounts, that is so dangerous and difficult to police.

It is easy to understand the frustration at court procedure, which often moves slowly and may involve suppression orders of some kind.

This feeling is magnified when an especially violent or heinous crime has allegedly been committed, sparking public outrage.

But the rules, and the suppression orders where applicable, are most often there not only to ensure an alleged perpetrator is afforded a fair trial, but also to protect the victim and their family, and their chance of achieving justice.

Finding that justice can take time, and for a variety of reasons some family and friends of victims may never find it, or feel it has been denied.

The short-sightedness, or lack of knowledge of suppression orders and the court process in general is a real danger.

Those who post suppressed information, whether they know it is suppressed or not, may think in their own mind that they are helping at that point in time.

But in actual fact there is a good chance they are doing the exact opposite and perhaps unwittingly denying the proper administration of justice.

The court process takes time but needs to run its course.

Cameron Whiteley is editor at The News.