Will My Matter Get Media Attention? What to be aware of when you have been charged with a criminal offence.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you may be concerned that your matter will attract publicity. Whether your intention is to plead guilty to your charges, or to fight them, concerns over media scrutiny are understandable. The public interest in reporting on these events must be balanced against the administration of justice; as such it is important that you are aware of the possibilities when it comes to media exposure.
Each matter is unique. If you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence, it is important that you are aware of the risk of publicity, and that you contact a lawyer immediately to get advice tailored to your situation.
Generally speaking, most Court proceedings are open to the public, including journalists who may decide to report on the proceedings. Although we do not expect every matter that finds its way into the judicial system to be reported on, it is critical to remember that if your matter is proceeding before an open court, the media can usually report on the proceedings if they wish. The media may report on something as seemingly insignificant as a mention, through to your more complex sentence hearings and trials.
There are always exceptions to this rule, so if you do have any concerns, please contact our office to discuss your matter further with one of our lawyers.
If matters are not heard in an open court, then it is called a ‘closed court’. The types of matters and reasons a court may be closed are discussed below.
Despite a court being ‘open’, there are still rules in place to regulate conduct inside the courtroom. This includes rules regarding the use of electronic devices. Practice Direction No. 1 of 2014 regulates the use of electronic devices in Courtrooms, and directs the following:
Photography and video recordings must not be taken in any Magistrates Court courtroom without express permission from the Chief Magistrate or a Deputy Chief Magistrate.
Only accredited media may take private recordings as long as it is done in a manner that does not interrupt proceedings. The purpose of these recordings is to allow for accurate reporting on Court matters. These recordings must not be published or broadcasted.
Daily Law Lists
The Court publishes a ‘Daily Law List’. It is intended to assist those attending Court by publishing their name and the Courtroom their matter is allocated to. These lists are often published the night before the court proceedings and are accessible to the public on the Court website. In most cases, if you have a criminal matter before the Courts, your name will appear on the lists relevant to your court date.
Whilst access to these lists on the Court website soon disappears following the court date, the media often publish these lists themselves, maintaining a record of those lists online. This means that after your court date, a Google search of your name may retrieve articles related to criminal matters before the courts.
Access to Material
A person who is not a party to a trial may make an application under section 56A of the Criminal Practice Rules 1999 to copy exhibits for the purpose of publication. These are applications made during or after a trial and are typically heard before the trial judge or magistrate. The magistrate or judge hearing the application must take into account a series of factors, including whether it is in the public’s interest for these exhibits to be copied for publication.
The publication of the identity of children is prohibited with exceptions only applying where the offence is serious. As such, Children’s Court proceedings are conducted in a closed court. This means in most cases the media cannot publish a child’s or any information that may lead to them being identified.
Domestic Violence Matters
Applications for a Domestic Violence Order, although may appear to be criminal by nature, are civil matters not criminal. As such they are treated differently, and the publication of information relating to these proceedings can be prohibited and doing so may be an offence.
The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 prohibits the publishing of information given in evidence in these proceedings or information that will identify or is likely to identify a party to those proceedings, a witness to those proceedings, or a child concerned in the proceedings.
As such the civil applications for a domestic violence order occur within a closed courtroom. Criminal matters that involve domestic violence are often heard in closed courtrooms as well.
It should be noted that exceptions do apply, so if you do have any concerns about the disclosure of information relating to these proceedings, you can contact our office.
Sexual Violence Offences
Recent legislative changes have meant that media outlets can now publish the identity of those charged with certain sexual offences. Where previously there were restrictions on the disclosure of identifying details of those accused with sexual offending, amendments to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978 which took effect on 3 October 2023 mean that the publication of these details can now occur, except in certain circumstances.
These legislative changes are only relevant to the identity of those accused of committing a prescribed sexual violence offence. There are still some restrictions under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978 that prohibit publication of a victim or complainant identity. Details that could identify the complainant’s name, address, school or place of employment are not to be published. In the spirit of these protections, the identity of a defendant cannot be published where publication may reveal the identity of the complainant.
With these recent changes to the law, the process for those accused and charged with one of the prescribed sexual offences is to make an application for a non-publication order. For more information on that process, please read our article here regarding the process for seeking a non-publication order.
Suppression Orders & Non-Publication Orders
These orders should be distinguished from one another, as whilst they may appear similar, they operate in different ways.
Suppression Orders are orders by the Court restricting information that would otherwise be heard in open court. These are pre-emptive orders that prevent information from being heard in open court at all. They are made in circumstances where it is in the public interest for information to be restricted.
Non-Publication Orders on the other hand, are orders that restrict the publication of information that has already been heard in open court. They involve a restriction on the publication or dissemination of that information beyond the open court room, rather than closing the court proceedings all together.
The rules and regulations surrounding the ability of the media to report on court matters is always changing and incredibly nuanced. If you do have any concerns or queries regarding a criminal matter you have before the Courts, it is important that you seek legal advice to protect your rights and ensure that your matter is handled with the right level of care.
Please contact our office if you have any questions or enquiries.