MELBOURNE, Australia, December 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Australian legal authorities have suggested charges may be laid against media, both national and foreign, who broke a publication ban and reported in any way on Cardinal Pell’s conviction this week for historic child assault.
A legal authority in Australia is now threatening a U.S. media source with legal action for what it called a “breach” of the publication ban, saying that the ban applies to “any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia.”
An Australian source told LifeSiteNews yesterday that Cardinal George Pell had been found guilty of sexual assault and was currently appealing the judgment. A media blackout of the proceedings had been ordered on June 25 by the Chief Justice of the Victoria County Court, His Honor Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
Chief Judge Kidd’s suppression order, which has not been appealed, covers both trials in connection with charges against Pell. The order enjoins media not to release any information about the trials, including outcomes.
The Australian Daily Telegraph responded to news of Pell's conviction with hints of who had been convicted without naming him. Wednesday's front page stated: “An awful crime. The person is guilty. You may have read the news online already. Yet we can’t publish it. But trust us…” and included the blaring headline: “It’s the nation’s biggest story.”
American media sources were much less circumspect. The story of Pell’s conviction was reported by The Daily Beast and swiftly picked up by Church Militant.
In response to news leaking of Pell's conviction, Chief Judge Kidd ordered Pell’s legal team, Robert Richter and Ruth Shann, as well as Kerri Judd, QC, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions and her assistants to appear before him in open court on December 13.
There Kidd revealed that an application was going to be made by the press for him to “vary” or “revoke” his suppression order. He discussed with the counsels for the defence and the prosecution how the media’s “conduct” was going to be discussed during this hearing.
“Some of the media that appeared overnight at the very least raises a serious question as to whether my suppression order has been breached in the most egregious way possible,” said Kidd, according to court records.
“The media coverage overnight also raises a serious question, quite independently of that, of contempt of court, namely bringing inappropriate and improper pressure upon me to vary or revoke my suppression order application,” he continued.
Kidd then raised the specter of mass arrests of media figures and serious jail time.
“My thinking at the moment…is this, that given how potentially egregious and flagrant these breaches are, a number of very important people in the media are facing, if found guilty, the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment,” he said.
Kidd suggested that if the matter was brought to court, Judd should bring the charges, “so that all these people who may be the subject of such charges are afforded with this procedural fairness as much as is possible, given the very significant and grave consequences which may well flow from a finding of guilt.”
Judd suggested that the media figures also be charged with sub judice contempt, which means contempt “in the sense of prejudicing the next trial.” She also suggested extraditions of media to Australia.
The maximum penalty for a breach of Australia’s Open Court Act offense is five years in prison.
Australian media figures are not the only object of judicial ire. Today Christine Niles of Church Militant reported on Twitter that Chief Justice Kidd has threatened her organization with prosecution for reporting on Pell's conviction.
Linking to the Church Militant report on Pell’s conviction, Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd wrote to Niles, its Editor-in-Chief:
“As you may be aware, George Pell is facing prosecution for historical child sexual offenses in the County Court of Victoria. The matter is therefore subject to the sub judice contempt principles.”
“As you may also be aware, on 25 June 2018, a proceeding suppression order was made in this matter pursuant to Section 17 of the Open Courts Act 2013. That order is currently in force,” Judd continued.
She stated that the prohibition in the order applied within all states and territories within Australia and “on any website…accessible within Australia.”
Judd said also that she considered the Church Militant report “has a real and definite tendency to interfere with the proper administration of justice in this matter” and therefore breached both the “sub judice contempt principles” and the suppression order.
She asked Church Militant to remove its report from “publication” and said she was “considering [her] options” regarding proceedings against the organization.
Church Militant is only one of the many North American media organizations that have reported Pell’s conviction. Among others, they now include LifeSiteNews, the Daily Beast, Catholic News Agency, National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, Slate magazine, the Washington Post, and the New York Post.
In addition, media figures such as Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America magazine, have tweeted the news.