What are suppression orders?
Suppression orders are directives of a court intended to prohibit and restrict the publication or other disclosure of any information in connection with any proceeding. These orders are commonly made to:
- prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice that cannot be prevented by other means
- avoid prejudicing the interests of national or international security
- provide protection to the safety of any person
- avoid causing undue stress or embarrassment to any complainant or witness, particularly in the context of proceedings relating to sexual or family violence offences.
Contravention of a suppression order attracts strict penalties which may include a term of imprisonment depending on the severity of the contravention.
Where are the courts powers to make suppression orders contained?
Open Courts Act 2013
The circumstances in which suppression orders can be made are contained in s 18 the Open Courts Act 2013 (OC Act). In this regard, the OC Act is intended to consolidate other suppression order provisions relevant to proceedings before Victorian Courts and Tribunals including:
- The Supreme Court
- The County Court
- The Magistrates' Court
- The Coroners Court
- The Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VCAT).
What other legislative examples exist for suppression orders to be made?
Whilst the OC Act contains the main power for suppression orders in Victoria, there are provisions contained in other legislation which operate to provide similar protections.
Section 75(1) of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (CMIA) operates in a similar fashion to the OC Act. It permits a Court to order the suppression of information, evidence or document content that may enable an accused or any witness to the proceeding to be identified.
Section 129A of the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2011 grants IBAC the power to issue a suppression order to prohibit or restrict the publication of any information or evidence given during a public examination. Whilst this power similarly seeks to prevent prejudice or hardship to any person, it provides IBAC with the power to make a suppression order "for any reason having regard to the circumstances." As such, this appears to create a broader power in the context of anti-corruption investigations than that contained in the OC Act.
Section 32F of the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 empowers a Court to make ancillary orders to suppress the publication of all or part of any evidence necessary to protect the safety or welfare of a protected confider, medical practitioner or counsellor. This power further enables the Court to make such orders relating to the disclosure of protected identity information as necessary.