26 September 2013

Sandwiches and Suppression Orders

From the Adelaide Advertiser's coverage earlier this month of the South Australian Attorney-General's report on suppression orders in that state -
the Supreme, District, Magistrates and Youth Courts imposed 155 suppression orders in 2012-13.
That represents a reduction from 161 in 2011-12, 173 in 2009-10 and 207 in 2008-09. ...
The Magistrates Court imposed the most suppressions (84) while the Youth Court handed down just one.
Suppression of court hearings is governed by Section 69A of the Evidence Act (1929).
Prior to 2007, courts could suppress evidence under broad grounds including the protection of victims from hardship and to prevent "prejudice to the proper administration of justice".
Opponents of the legislation claimed it was being misused by lawyers to stop media outlets from fairly and accurately reporting court events to the broader public.
In some years, in excess of 220 suppression orders were imposed on everything from the colour of the barrels used in the "bodies in the barrels" serial killings to the name of a defendant's dog.
In one case, defence counsel sought to suppress the flavour of a sandwich a woman had used to drug her partner before bashing him to death.
South Australia came under criticism, both internally and from interstate, for being "the secrecy state".
Although the number of orders has declined South Australia still isn't enthusiastic about administrative openness ... the miasmas of secrecy linger.

The A-G's report consists of four pages, including the cover and transmittal letter. It includes basic statistics (ie number by month per court) and the statement (reflecting the statute) that orders were made for the following reasons -
  • to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice
  • to prevent undue hardship to an alleged victim of crime; to a witness or potential witness in civil or criminal proceedings who is not a party to those proceedings;  or a child
  • to prevent identification of an accused, victim or witness
  • to prevent publication of various details concerning the accused, victim or witness.
No indication of how long the orders were in place (an area of contention in the past). No indication of demographics. All in all not very helpful for law reform.