Major Review Of Contempt Of Court Laws

Victoria’s contempt of court laws will be examined under a major review commissioned by the Andrews Labor Government.

The Labor Government has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review contempt of court laws and consider whether they need to be modernised to enhance public confidence in the justice system and allow for clearer enforcement.

The Commission’s review responds to recommendations made by former Supreme Court Judge Frank Vincent following his review of the Open Courts Act 2013.

Under the terms of reference, the Commission will examine:

  • contempt in the face of the court, such as disrupting or obstructing court proceedings
  • sub judice contempt, such as publishing information that could interfere with a court proceeding or a person’s right to a fair trial
  • juror contempt, such as a juror acting improperly by conducting an unauthorised internet search while participating in a trial
  • contempt by breach of court order, such as publishing information that breaches a suppression order
  • contempt by scandalising the court, such as an ongoing interference of justice by publishing information casting doubt on the integrity and impartiality of a judicial officer.

The Commission will also examine the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958, which restricts reports on certain judicial proceedings, and consider whether it should be reformed to better align with the Open Courts Act.

The Commission will also assess whether existing penalties for breaching publication restrictions are adequate, and whether the level of fault required to prove these offences is appropriate.

Relevant defences and the process for enforcing penalties will be reviewed.

Consideration will be given to whether temporary restrictions on publication should be introduced to better protect victims at the time that alleged perpetrators are charged with sexual or family violence related offences, drawing on a key recommendation of the Open Courts Act Review.

The Commission will make recommendations about existing suppression orders made before the introduction of the Open Courts Act. The review is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

A copy of the full terms of reference is available at lawreform.vic.gov.au

Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Martin Pakula

“This is about making sure the laws relating to contempt of court and suppression orders are working effectively by protecting victims, but also the public’s right to know as well as court processes.”

“This major review responds to key recommendations made by Justice Vincent following his review of the Open Courts Act, and will provide more clarity around contempt of court matters.”