Summary of Judgment in the matter of The Queen v The Herald & Weekly Times Pty Ltd
Summary of Judgment
The Queen v The Herald & Weekly Times Pty Ltd  VSC 253
4 June 2021
The Honourable Justice John Dixon today convicted and sentenced 12 news media organisations (‘media respondents’), who pleaded guilty to 21 charges of contempt of court for reporting information derived from the ‘cathedral trial’ of Cardinal George Pell in December 2018, contrary to a proceeding suppression order. A table identifying the media respondents and the sentence on each charge is contained in the annexure of this summary.
His Honour found that the media respondents frustrated the suppression order, as they diminished its purpose or efficacy by reporting information contrary to the terms of the order. In doing so, the media respondents usurped the function of the court in protecting the proper administration of justice, and took it upon themselves to determine where the balance ought to lie between Pell’s right to a fair second trial (on separate charges) by an impartial jury, and the public’s right to know what happened in the cathedral trial.
Justice John Dixon did not accept the Director of Public Prosecutions’ submission that the reports were published to deliberately pressure the trial judge prior to determining the media’s application, after the verdict, to review the suppression order. However, his Honour was satisfied that the media respondents each took a calculated risk by intentionally publishing the reports.
His Honour rejected the media respondents’ submissions that their breaches of the suppression order were each due to an honest but mistaken belief that their reporting would not contravene the order. The content of the reports in most cases demonstrated the media respondents disagreed with the suppression order, and contended — either as direct opinion or as statements of others adopted without criticism — that the media should not be restrained from reporting the outcome of the trial. The reporting of News Life Media (the publisher of News.com.au) and The Age Company (the publisher of The Age) in particular constituted a blatant and wilful defiance of the court’s authority, as each took a deliberate risk by intentionally advancing a collateral attack on the role of suppression orders in Victoria’s criminal justice system.
Justice John Dixon accepted that each of the media respondents had offered a sincere and unreserved apology to the court, the trial judge, and the County Court, which were matters taken into account on sentence. His Honour further determined that the timing of the media respondents’ pleas of guilty, which were made at trial, did not demonstrate any significant degree of remorse and contrition, but were entered to protect their individual journalist, presenter and editor employees from conviction on the contempt charges they separately faced, but were withdrawn as part of the plea agreement between the media respondents and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
His Honour ordered that the media respondents’ pay the applicant’s costs in the sum of $650,000, as agreed by the parties in the plea agreement, a matter that was also taken into account on sentence.
NOTE: This summary is necessarily incomplete. It is not intended as a substitute for the court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the court’s reasons. The only authoritative pronouncement of the court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.
|Media respondent||Charge and impugned report||Penalty|
|Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd||1. Herald Sun online article||$1,000|
|25. Weekly Times online article||$1,000|
|News Life Media Pty Ltd||5. News.com.au online article||$400,000|
|Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd||9. Courier Mail article||$1,000|
|The Geelong Advertiser Pty Ltd||13. Geelong Advertiser online article||$1,000|
|Nationwide News Pty Ltd||17. Daily Telegraph article||$20,000|
|21. Daily Telegraph online article||$1,000|
|Advertiser Newspapers Pty Ltd||29. The Advertiser online article||$1,000|
|The Age Company Pty Ltd||33. The Age article||$125,000|
|41. The Age online article||$125,000|
|47. The Age online editorial||$200,000|
|Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd||49. SMH article||$2,000|
|53. AFR online article 1||$75,000|
|59. AFR online article 2||$75,000|
|65. AFR article||$10,000|
|Mamamia.com.au Pty Ltd||71. Mamamia online article||$20,000|
|Allure Media Pty Ltd||75. Business Insider online article||$10,000|
|Radio 2GB Sydney Pty Ltd||79. 2GB Breakfast segment||$10,000|
|General Television Corporation Pty Ltd||83. 5:32am Today Show segment||$10,000|
|85. 6:00am Today Show segment||$10,000|
|87. 7:02am Today Show segment||$10,000|