Fact sheet

Fact Check: Can you criticise the conduct of the courts or of a judge?

Liberal Party of Australia Freedom of speech Contempt of court
When three members of the Federal Government made provocative comments about the Victorian Court of Appeal they were called to explain themselves. They ran the risk of prosecution for contempt of court, and the Opposition called on them to resign. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commented that in a free society, a person was entitled to criticise the conduct of the courts or judges, but a different standard applied when talking about cases before a jury. RMIT ABC Fact Check found Mr Turnbull accurately refered to a general principle: all Australians, including politicians, have the freedom to criticise the courts and judges without the risk of criminal prosecution. But there is more to the story. There are limits to this freedom. A person who comments on ongoing court proceedings may face criminal charges for sub judice contempt if there is a real risk that the person's comments will prejudice a fair trial. The risk is greater when a jury is involved. Similarly, people who criticise judges or the justice system in a particularly abusive or unfair way (as determined by the court itself) may also face criminal prosecution for the offence of scandalising the court ' an offence that has been abolished in the United Kingdom, but remains part of Australian law.
Verdict: More to the story
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