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Aust: Contempt Proceedings Against Journalists

Attorney-General Declares Interest in Contempt Proceedings Against Journalists

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has asked the Commonwealth Solicitor-General to seek leave of the Victorian County Court to appear on his behalf in possible contempt proceedings against two Herald Sun journalists.

The journalists, Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, appeared as witnesses in proceedings involving the prosecution of a former public servant alleged to have leaked information in breach of the Crimes Act 1914.

Both journalists refused to disclose the source of leaked information they obtained, citing their journalists’ code of ethics as the reason.

“The Court has been advised of the Government’s intention because this is a matter in which we believe the Commonwealth has an interest. However, it would be a matter for the Chief Judge to decide whether leave is granted,” Mr Ruddock said.

Neither Commonwealth legislation nor the common law currently contains a privilege to protect journalists’ sources, however these are issues the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is considering in a review of the Uniform Evidence Acts.

The ALRC has proposed that a limited privilege for confidential communications be introduced into Commonwealth law, similar to that currently applicable in New South Wales. The ALRC is due to present its report to the Attorney-General in December.

“The outcome of the report and the probability of subsequent legislation, might be relevant to whether imprisonment is an appropriate penalty under the current circumstances,” Mr Ruddock said.

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