Publication of Names in Sexual Assault Matters in Tasmania

People charged with sexual crimes can often experience great shame and embarrassment. It is unsurprising that those charged sexual crimes can be concerned about whether their name will be published in the news media or online, this is especially the case when there is media attention surrounding case. One such recent example is the trial, and successful High Court Appeal of Cardinal George Pell.

The Parliament of Tasmania has recently amended section 194K of the Evidence Act 2001 (Tas), in relation to the naming of persons who are victims of sexual crimes committed against the law of Tasmania, the amendments do not relate to Commonwealth crimes. Following the amendments, there can be no reporting or publishing of identifying information, nor can a person or corporation cause identifying information to be published about the alleged victim, or any witness in the case. However, the name of a person accused of a sexual offence in Tasmania can be published in the media.

For the purposes of section 194K of the Evidence Act, the Parliament has defined identifying information as including the name, address, school, place of employment and any other reference or allusion that identifies, or is likely to lead to the identification of, the alleged victim or witness, and also includes pictures or images of the alleged victim or witnesses.

The word publish has also been given a specific legal definition. Publish means to make available to the public, or a section of the public, by any means, including but not limited to –

(a) publication in a newspaper, journal, periodical, book or other document; and

(b) broadcast by radio, television, wireless or other telegraphy; and

(c) publication or broadcast, by means of the internet, in any format; and

(d) in print, or electronic, communication meant for one or more persons; and

(e) public exhibition, spectacle or event; and

(f) such other prescribed means of making information available to the public.

This will mean that commentary online, for example, a Facebook or Twitter post, or even a private email, may breach the prohibition if a post or email includes identifying information of any alleged victim or witness.

However, the most important amendment relates to publication of names after the completion of the criminal trial process. A person or corporation may publish the names of victims, and witnesses, if:

  • The person publishing the information has a Court order; or
  • The alleged victim is over age 18, freely consents to the publication of the information in writing, and the criminal proceedings have been finalised.

Importantly, a person who breaches the prohibition on reporting on the identifying information of any alleged victim or witness is committing a Contempt of Court, which is a serious crime. The penalty for Contempt of Court includes imprisonment.

If you require information or advice how s194K Evidence Act 2001 (Tas) might apply in your case, or if you need advice in relation to a sexual offence please contact us to obtain legal advice catered to your situation on 1300 066 669.