There has been excitement (and annoyance) in the Australian press because, just before Christmas, a very famous person was convicted of something more than a parking offence. But since there was a suppression order in place we are not to be told who that person is. Or for that matter, of what s/he has been convicted, until a second trial takes place in March.

Morton landscape

     James Morton

Is it a footy player? A politician? A policeman or a pop star? Or just another of the many Melburnian criminals who have been protected by these orders? The fact is, of course, that everyone knows who the person is.

Victoria, where the order has been issued, has more than half the number of suppression orders in force throughout Australia. 

A year ago retired judge Frank Vincent produced a report saying he did not think suppression orders were working and the government in Victoria has promised to implement at least some of his 17 recommendations.

It would be interesting to know just how many gagging orders have been issued here in recent years and for how long they have remained in force. In the case of one solicitor and his staff, I seem to recall one ran for several years until a series of interlocked trials finished. One of those convicted had already finished his sentence. It would also be interesting to know whether, in these days of the internet and social media, anyone still considers they have any validity.

My recollection is that well before the Contempt of Court Act 1981, when the Krays stood trial for the murder of Frank Mitchell, Mr Justice Lawton allowed John Platts-Mills (for Ronnie) to question the jurors about what they had read about the twins’ convictions a few weeks earlier over the murder of Cornell and McVitie. A number of jurors were rejected and the trial went ahead.

The defendants were all acquitted; which shows that on occasion jurors can be relied on to make their decision on the facts and not what they have been told or have read in the papers – or, these days, on social media. 

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor