Derryn Hinch has used his first Senate speech to name five paedophiles whose identities are otherwise the subject of suppression orders. In the Senate he wears the snug (smug?) cloak of parliamentary privilege. He can name names with impunity and, given how much publicity he got the first time, surely there are plenty more to come.
The question is, what can be published about Hinch's speeches? Does his privilege also protect media who report what he says in Parliament?
- Let's start at the start. Court proceedings are meant to be public the idea is that we the public will think the courts are acting fairly if we can see what they're doing. It's called open justice.
- There's a bunch of laws that allow for aspects of court proceedings to be suppressed when it will serve some greater public interest. Suppressing sex offenders' names is controversial because people like Hinch say it is not in the public interest.
- Depending on the legal basis for the suppression order, if you publish suppressed information you can face contempt proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
- Parliamentary privilege means that politicians can say what they like during speeches and debate in parliament without legal consequences. They are immune from things like contempt of court and defamation. That's why Hinch can safely name names during a speech in the Senate.
- Parliamentary privilege does not extend to communications outside the Senate. If Hinch says the same stuff on the steps outside, he could end up in the slammer for it (again).
- There are some legal protections available for reports on parliamentary proceedings. For example, a fair and accurate report will not give rise to a claim for defamation.
- There is no blanket protection for reports of parliamentary proceedings that involve the publication of otherwise suppressed information.
- Whether a defence is available will depend on the legislative basis for, and the terms of, the original suppression orders. It's a case by case thing, literally.
- Heads up though, we haven't seen suppression laws which provide a `Hinchsaidit intheSenate' defence.
So for our two cents, if you publish the names that Hinch names then you're taking a big risk. The courts do not love journos who ignore their orders.