As many as 100 journalists were issued show cause notices in February, accused of breaching the suppression order placed over the trial of Cardinal George Pell.
In June 2017 Pell was charged over historical sex offences. He was committed to face the charges over multiple trials in May 2018, the first of which began in August of that year.
Chief Judge of the Victorian County Court Peter Kidd, the judge presiding over the first trial (nicknamed the 'cathedral trial' for the site of the allegations), issued a suppression order on 25 June 2018. The order covered all information about the trial and was put in place to avoid prejudicing a separate group of jurors in the upcoming second trial (the 'swimmers trial').
Pell was found guilty by the jury in the cathedral trial on 11 December 2018. The suppression order meant that Australian media could not publish the verdict, but it was widely reported internationally.
A few days later on 13 December, Australian newspapers protested the prior restraint on their front pages.
In a hearing that same day, Kidd "could not contain his fury", according to The Guardian journalist Melissa Davey:
“The way I see it at the moment is that some of this publicity was designed to put improper pressure upon me,” Kidd said.
“And, indeed, it is positively misleading … My [suppression] order was never appealed. Indeed, quite dishonestly these articles refrain from informing their readers that there was no opposition [by media] to the suppression order being made in Victoria."
The ABC reported that he said that "a number of very important people in the media are facing, if found guilty, the prospect of ... substantial imprisonment". A transcript of that hearing was circulated to journalists by the court.
Three months later, on February 26 2019, the second case against Pell - the swimmers trial - was dropped. Chief Judge Kidd lifted the suppression order, and the same day it was revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC had written to "as many as 100" journalists, publishers and editors accusing them of breaching the order, of scandalising the court and interfering with the administration of justice.
Those who received the letters (called 'show cause notices') were required to respond why they shouldn't be charged with contempt of court.
Charges were pursued against 23 individuals and 13 organisations in the first hearing on 15 April. At that hearing, media lawyers Justin Quill and Matt Collins QC successfully argued that the charges lacked detail and were therefore difficult to respond to. Prosecutors agreed to prepare a more comprehensive statement of claim.
In its updated document, filed on 20 May, charges against 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley and editor of the Herald Sun Damon Johnston had been dropped.
The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday 26 June.
25 June 2018
11 December 2018
- Pell found guilty of child sexual assault
- Australian media unable to report due to suppression order
- Widely reported in international media, spread on social media
13 December 2018
26 February 2019
- Charges against Pell in the second trial are dropped
- Kidd lifts suppression order
- Show cause notices sent to up to 100 journalists for breaching the suppression order
5 March 2019
15 April 2019
- 23 journalists, 13 media companies appear before the Victorian Supreme Court facing contempt charges
20 May 2019
Davey M 2019. George Pell: cardinal found guilty of child sexual assault. The Guardian Australia. 26 February 2019.
Meade A 2019. Up to 100 journalists accused of breaking Pell suppression order face possible jail terms. The Guardian Australia. 26 February 2019.
Davey M 2019. Inside the Pell trial: we sat in court for months, forbidden from reporting a word. The Guardian Australia. 27 February 2019.
Davey M 2019. Prosecutor drops George Pell contempt of court cases against ABC and Crikey. The Guardian Australia. 5 March 2019.
Younger E 2019. George Pell media contempt case could have 'chilling effect' on open justice, court hears. ABC News. 15 April 2019.
Percy K 2019. George Pell contempt of court charges against Ray Hadley and Herald Sun editor withdrawn. ABC News. 20 May 2019.