This report is about three related areas of law:
- the law of contempt of court
- the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 (Vic)
- the law about what people are allowed to publish about court proceedings, and what is restricted.
It is rare for people to be charged with contempt of court. However, the law of contempt of court is critical. It protects public confidence in the courts and is essential to the rule of law. But it needs reform.
The law should be fairer, clearer, and more certain. A person should be able to know in advance what behaviour can be punished as a contempt of court. They should know what needs to be proved, who will judge them, what the process will be, and what punishment they could receive. A person should be able to understand the language of the law of contempt of court. This is not the case today.
The procedure for contempt of court is a confusing mix of civil law and criminal law. The procedure can be unfair. When a contempt of court happens in court during a trial, the same person – a judge or magistrate – can act as a witness, prosecutor and judge. When a person disobeys a court order, and is charged with contempt of court, it is not clear whether this is a criminal matter or not.