Court suppression orders in South Australia have almost doubled in 12 months.
The rise, to 206 publication bans from 140 the previous year has prompted concern that courts are haphazardly gagging public discussion of crime and justice issues.
The findings come as a court reconsiders a gag on the identity of the alleged Salt Creek backpacker sex predator who is charged with kidnapping, rape and attempted murder.
Critics warn that suppressions don’t stop information and speculation from crossing state borders, where the orders are expired, and that the orders themselves are more common in SA than in other states.
“There is an urgent need to seek explanations for these rollercoaster fluctuations,” Dr Joseph Fenandez told The Advertiser.
He said that from an outsider’s perspective, the State Government should review the 206 orders issued last year.
“It seems to me there is a certain degree of arbitrariness, by individual members of the judiciary, in terms of what is open justice and what is not,” Fenandez said.
“Are these statistics a reflection of whim and fancy? Until these orders are forensically examined, it’s difficult to know.”
Victims’ Rights Commissioner Michael O’Connell told The Advertiser that the increase was curious.
“The courts have to strike a difficult balance between open justice and protecting privacy,” he said.
“There is a constant tension between an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know about the processes of their judicial system.”
Back in 2007, the Evidence Act (1929) was amended to reduce the number of orders issued by courts, causing a steady decline, at least between 2011 and 2014.
The Magistrates Court saw the largest increase, with orders almost doubling from 66 to 115. The District and Supreme courts remained relatively stable with only a slight rise.
Only 29 suppressions were lifted in the annual review or existing orders.