How predators are hiding in plain sight
A RECORD number of suppression orders slapped onto evidence by judges has turned NSW into a state of secrecy.
The Opposition yesterday called for a review of the 366 suppression orders made over two years which have hidden the identities of criminals and blocked details of entire cases.
The suppression orders have been condemned for protecting the perpetrators at the expense of victims and come on top of secrecy laws blocking the names of predators on the Child Protection Register and stopping the public from knowing about alleged crimes committed by people released on bail.
Victims advocate Howard Brown said the situation had become so dire it should become an election issue.
"For people to have confidence in the administration of justice, there must be transparency," Mr Brown said.
"Information is suppressed for the sake of suppressing it and the public does not know what is really going on."
There is also still no way for the public to know which serious offenders including murderers and rapists apply for release on parole.
There are over two dozen laws giving judges the power to prevent information being given to the public - but the only law that would force courts to throw open proceedings, the Court Information Act, has languished since 2010 despite being passed by state parliament.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman yesterday announced a further delay as he referred the Act to the Law Reform Commission for "review" and blamed Labor for its failure to be implemented. The Act was passed in the last year of the Labor government, eight years ago.
Critics said it has reached the stage where the public is being treated with disdain.
Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said the Act, which had broad support, was designed to provide for open access to certain court information to promote greater transparency and understanding of the justice system.
"But for eight years this government has done nothing about the issue," Mr Lynch said. "Separately, an increase in the number of suppression orders is concerning. That should be the subject of a proper review."
He said there was a lack of consistency across the courts with the Local Courts and District Court more secret than the Supreme Court.
"A basic principle of our legal system should be open access to justice," Mr Lynch said. "That also means access for the media to report. Access to material and documents tendered to open courts helps encourage accurate reporting. Many of these issues would have been improved if the Court Information Act had been implemented."
The media is routinely prevented from reporting all the details of criminal cases before the courts and refused access to witness statements and other documents even if they are tendered in evidence.
Often these decisions are made by court registrars and have to be challenged using legal teams before a judge.
The police statements of alleged facts tendered to Local Courts in opposition to bail applications for even the most serious crimes are no longer provided to the media.
There is no list published by the State Parole Authority of serious offenders applying for parole and not one single decision explaining the release of any offender has been published since former Justice James Wood took over as authority chairman in 2013.
In 2011 there were 97 suppression orders made across the state's courts. In 2017 that had almost doubled to 181 while another 185 orders were imposed last year.
Journalists' union head Paul Murphy said the trend showed the courts were treating the public with disdain.
"They do not understand that the media is there representing the public," said Mr Murphy, president of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
"We have seen an increasing suspicion towards the media by courts' administrators."
The Attorney-General yesterday said he had been considering a review of non-publication regimes and access to court documents since the blanket suppression order of a high-profile Victorian case late last year.
"The principle of open justice is a bedrock of our democracy," Mr Speakman said. "It promotes public confidence in our courts and is important to ensure the integrity of the justice system.
"I am referring these issues and the operation of the principle of open justice in NSW to the NSW Law Reform Commission for consideration and recommendations."
NSW Law Society president Elizabeth Espinosa said: "As a matter of principle, court proceedings and rulings should be made accessible to all."
Former president of the NSW Bar Association and current president of the Law Council of Australia Arthur Moses SC said the need for suppression orders in courts should always be balanced against open justice.
"It is often said that not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done," Mr Moses said.
No privacy for Leigh but her killer is protected
He is a perverted killer who can freely walk the streets of a country town but police who monitor him can't warn anyone that he is on the state's Child Protection Register.
The protection of Bradley Paul Eddy, 58, is part of a culture of secrecy that pervades the state's administration of justice and ranges across multiple government agencies.
Only two people, the police commissioner and police minister, are allowed to authorise police to disclose who is on the 4000-strong register. It means in the vast majority of cases the identity of those on the register remains secret.
Not even the devastated family of Eddy's victim, teenager Leigh Bradley, whose half-naked strangled body was found in a bathtub 10 days after she was reported missing in 1991, could be told where he was living.
The Daily Telegraph tracked him down to Wagga Wagga where two years ago he was prosecuted for breaching two of the register's strict conditions by making contact with a 15-year-old, who had also been reported missing, and creating social media profiles. He was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond.
It was only through a report of the court case that Leigh's family learned where he was living.
Erin Bradley, who was 12 when her sister Leigh, 17, (pictured) was murdered, said she wanted to highlight how privacy laws protect the perpetrators and not the victims.
"It's an issue that's close to home," Ms Bradley said. "I'm all for getting the information out there before other people find out the hard way what is kept secret."
The family was informed when he was released on parole but once his parole ended in 2011, they were not entitled to any more information.
"I understand that when a person is released into the community we have to give them the privacy to assimilate back into life but if they reoffend they should lose that privacy, " Ms Bradley said.
"My sister had no privacy but this man is protected."