The Victorian government welcomes the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Contempt of Court Report (External link), which was tabled in Parliament on 4 August 2020, and thanks the Commission for its work in producing this comprehensive review.
The law of contempt is critical to maintaining public confidence in the justice system and must be well understood. The government recognises the challenges of the current law, and supports the intent of the Commission’s recommendations, which is to make the law of contempt fairer, clearer and more certain. It is important for the integrity of the justice system that media and members of the public can understand what is expected of them, especially where the internet has given public statements unprecedented global reach.
In response to the Commission’s recommendations, the government will develop reforms to clarify and improve the law of contempt, so that what is prohibited through contempt laws is no broader than necessary, and so that the law of contempt does not lead to people being punished who have taken reasonable care to do the right thing. The serious consequences of a contempt conviction for individual journalists and media participants demands nothing less.
The government also commits to modernising the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958. In particular, the government supports the rights of victims to tell their stories, and their right to ‘opt out’ of measures intended only to protect them. The Department of Justice and Community Safety will look at the Commission’s recommendations on this issue as a priority, and if reforms are needed to ensure these laws are effective, amendments will be urgently introduced.
As part of these reforms, government will consider changes to certain categories of contempt, including “scandalising contempt”, and ensure that reforms to allow victims of sexual offences to tell their stories operate effectively. The government will also closely review the enforcement of suppression orders in the internet age and raise this with other jurisdictions as appropriate.
These reforms will be developed in line with the government’s longstanding commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Such freedoms should, in our democracy, only be limited where there is a compelling justification, such as victim privacy and avoiding retraumatisation of those affected by crime, or the proper administration of justice.
The government will give further consideration and consult with stakeholders on the specific proposals put forward by the Commission in its report.