In 2017, an independent review of the Open Courts Act 2013 was conducted by former Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Frank Vincent.
The Open Courts Act Review was asked to consider whether the Act is striking the right balance between the need for open and transparent justice, and the need to protect the legitimate interests of victims, witnesses and accused persons, and to preserve the proper administration of justice.
The Review investigated whether there should be overarching consistent principles relating to suppression and non-publication orders. It examined a number of provisions under the Open Courts Act, including:
- the notice requirements and their impact on the rights of parties and the media to be heard when applications for suppression orders are made
- whether existing grounds for making a proceeding suppression order are adequate for the wide variety of matters that come before courts
- whether requirements that suppression orders clearly specify the information to be suppressed are operating effectively
- whether requirements that suppression orders operate only as long as necessary are being upheld.
It also reviewed existing provisions under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009.
The Review consulted with and received submissions from a range of organisations including the media, courts, police, victims’ groups, and legal service providers.
The Review found that courts and tribunals made relatively few suppression orders in comparison to their overall caseloads, but that further work was needed to ensure future orders are clearer and made only when necessary.
It recommended a range of improvements to existing suppression laws, including:
- restricting the use of suppression orders, so that they can’t be made if other laws already prevent publication
- allowing adult victims of sexual assault or family violence to disclose their identity after the offender has been convicted – including where they were abused as a child
- specifically requiring courts and tribunals to provide written reasons for making a suppression order
- treating all suppression orders as ‘interim orders’ for the first five days, so that interested parties, including the media, can make submissions against the need for the order
- allowing previous relevant convictions of youth offenders to be reported if the person continued to engage in serious offending as an adult
- improving judges’ understanding of suppression order laws with new programs and materials developed by the Judicial College of Victoria
- creating a central, publicly accessible register of suppression orders made by all Victorian courts and tribunals.
The government supports in full or in principle 17 of 18 recommendations, and one recommendation is under further consideration.