The story currently moving in the background of George Pell‘s conviction for child sexual abuse is that up to 100 journalists have been threatened with a charge of contempt of court thanks to a series of reports which ran while the trial’s suppression order was in place.
Many of the reports did not directly reference or report on the Pell’s guilty verdict – which was handed down in December but suppressed until this week – but instead covered the suppression order itself. Some, including the News Corp papers, editorialised against the order on the grounds that it was stopping media from covering the biggest story in the country.
“The world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians,” the Herald Sun editorial, which was consequently removed, read. “The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this very significant news. But trust us, it’s a story you deserve to read.”
Letters were sent to dozens of journalists around the country early this month regarding the alleged breaches of the suppression order, signed by Kerri Judd, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions. Here is the text of the letter:
As you will be aware, George Pell is facing prosecution for historical child sex offences in the County Court, and a suppression order was made in relation to this matter on 25 June 2018.
I have considered the above publication, and it is my opinion that the above publication breaches the suppression order, has a definite and real tendency to interfere with the administration of justice and therefore constitutes sub judice contempt. is contemptuous by reason of it scandalising the Court. and aided and abetted contempts by overseas media.
At present, I intend to institute proceedings for contempt against you. However, I have determined to allow you the opportunity to respond and to draw any relevant matters to my attention, if you wish to do so, before I institute proceedings.
Lawyer Justin Quill, who is representing 53 media clients including journalists at Nine newspapers like The Age, says that the ‘‘virtually identical’’ letters represented a “scatter-gun approach”, criticising the fact that several were issued to people who had nothing to do with reporting or publishing the articles in question.
The suppression order was implemented after being requested by both the prosecution and the defence, on the grounds that reporting could prejudice a planned future trial for separate charges against the cardinal. The second set of charges were later dropped, meaning the suppression order was lifted and details could be published.