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Publish and be punished

A CHANGE to police policy has put the media on notice with regard to the naming of alleged offenders.

The policy change means the name of an alleged offender can no longer be published in the media before their first appearance in court.

The move was prompted by concerns of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Robert Cock QC, and former State Ombudsman Murray Allen.

Although the names of alleged offenders will still be included below the body text of any official police press release, publication of an alleged offender’s name could constitute contempt of court.

Office of the Commissioner director media and public affairs, Linda Byrne, said the policy change had been under consideration for some time and had included consultation with major media representations.

“Various concerns were raised in relation to providing actual names,” Ms Byrne said.

The major concern expressed by the DPP was that the publication of an alleged offender’s name prior to his/her first court appearance could prevent that individual from applying for a suppression order.

A suppression order would stop the publication of an alleged offender’s name in the media.

Among the media’s concerns, however, was the fact that, without the release of a name, it would be very difficult to track an individual through the courts.

“There has been an extensive consultation process in which the Australian Journalists’ Association has been involved,” Ms Byrne said.

“This was the best compromise. It has been a very complex issue to work through.”

The change to the current policy has been met with some resistance and concern from legal quarters and will be closely monitored and reviewed in three months’ time.

An industry source said the alteration to the policy had come about as a result of police concern that a situation could arise where an individual could be deprived of the right to apply for a suppression order.

“Counter to that you can get a suppression order at the first appearance and you’ve still suppressed bits of the case,” the source said. “You already can’t name individuals if it’s going to identify the victim of a sexual assault.

“I don’t think that it’s a real risk that someone’s going to be deprived of the right to apply for a suppression order.

“It’s very difficult to conceive of a situation where a suppression order would be granted in the first instance.”

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