Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:18:56) — My question is for the Minister for Police, represented by Minister Tierney. Natural justice and the presumption of innocence are fundamental human rights and cornerstones of our legal system. The principle of sub judice is something that we are all very familiar with in this context and a principle that we deal with often in this place, the rationale being that publication of material can prejudge legal proceedings or place pressure on persons involved in proceedings, including jurors and witnesses. The ultimate risk is that where a court is satisfied that there is a serious risk that the pretrial publicity has deprived the accused of a fair trial, it could be permanently stayed, meaning the prosecution will never go ahead.
On Monday, after the arrest of Ali Khalif Shire Ali on terrorism charges, police command rushed to a media conference before Mr Ali had even appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. In that press conference they alleged in great detail information relating to Mr Ali and the nature of an attack that was planned, which was reported widely in all forms of media. My question to the minister is: why are the police being allowed to prejudice legal proceedings in this way?
RESPONSE TO SUBSTANTIVE QUESTION:
Victoria Police regularly provides the community with relevant information on arrests, charges and a brief summary of the circumstances of an offence for a wide range of matters. In cases of major harm or potential harm to the community such as terrorism related offences public reassurance is essential. If Victoria Police were not to engage with the community, there would be a greater likelihood of misinformation, confusion and public concern. This form of public disclosure is consistently applied worldwide.
Sub judice contempt occurs where published material has a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice. Information provided in terrorism related offence media briefings consists only of the facts known to arresting police and these would be the same facts supplied to the court during a hearing.
Victoria Police are custodians of the justice system and are always cautious in balancing the community’s need to be informed about major incidents and not supplying material which may lead to a matter being pre judged. In criminal proceedings material which prejudges the guilt or innocence of the accused, prior convictions, criminal history or interviews with witnesses would never be supplied when informing the community of an arrest.
The courts permit reporting of matters based on a Public Interest Principle and freedom of communication and have acknowledged it is not prejudicial to publish the ‘bare facts’ of a case when reporting on matters of extreme public importance.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:20:26) — Thank you, Minister. In the wake of this media conference — and there have been other similar examples, including a charge against a Melbourne teenager accused of plotting an Anzac Day attack being dropped in the court — will the minister order a review of police media engagement to minimise the risk of prejudice occurring in the future?
RESPONSE TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:
I thank the member for her supplementary question. Management of Victoria Police media is a matter for the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police. I am confident that Victoria Police will continue to engage appropriately with the community on important matters of public safety.