Seen To Be Done: Opening Access To Justice In Victoria [Australia]

Bruce Baer Arnold | The Conversation | July 8, 2013

The Victorian state parliament is currently considering the Open Courts Bill (2013) after questions have been raised about just how much transparency is needed in the justice system. The bill, proposed by the government, centres on suppression orders and follows several controversies in Victoria and elsewhere over the past five years.

Those controversies involve claims that suppression orders are being misused by some prominent identities; that they are not viable in the age of the internet; and are overused or simply incompatible to the open justice ideal that is a cornerstone of a liberal-democratic state.

The Victorian bill is important because it clearly articulates a presumption of open access by the public, consistent with traditional statements by courts that justice must be seen to be done. The bill does not prohibit suppression orders and does not override the scope for courts to manage proceedings to protect people who are vulnerable. Instead, the bill instead offers a coherent framework that emphasises public access to proceedings, offering guidance to all courts, and by extension to journalists.