The Melbourne Magistrates Court has reportedly made an order prohibiting publication of material about Adrian Bayley until 18 January 2013, and requiring any negative material about him on the internet to be taken down. Suppression orders aren’t particularly outrageous, but this one’s a bit odd.
To explain, Bayley is accused of the murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne last month. In light of some of the particularly negative online communication about him (and his personal history) the purpose of the suppression order is to ensure he gets a fair trial. We think that’s fine but we’re not too sure about the effectiveness of the order.
Technically, the Court has the power to order any person to do or abstain from doing any act or thing. It also has the power to require any act or thing to be done or left undone. But surely it occurred to the Court that there may be some issues here. Will journalists be able to publish information about Adrian Bayley if they do so outside Australia, or outside Victoria? Does Facebook really have to take down the groups about Bayley if its server is outside Australia? The case has received international attention and there’s no way to stop overseas sites from publishing information about Bayley or to stop people here from visiting those sites.
Still, if local media and social media sites respect the orders, that will help reduce the prejudice to Bayley at least a bit. But what has us really confused is the fact that the Court is refusing to publish the wording of the actual order. It’s a little bizarre that you could find yourself in breach of a court order, without being a party to the proceedings, and without being given any notice of the order aside from a Supreme Court tweet (yes, the Supreme Court of Victoria is on twitter) and some news articles reporting that the order was made. The net result is that nobody knows for sure whether the order just restricts future publication or also requires existing material to be removed, and whether as reported it applies to absolutely everyone.
If we ever get to see the order we’ll let you know but, until then, just remember that a court in Victoria has made orders with you, us and everyone in mind. Also, don’t join any hate groups on Facebook.