Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright has pledged support for former ACT attorney-general Bernard Collaery, noting that the closed-door proceedings against him offend the principles of open justice.
In a statement issued on Friday, Ms Wright noted her support for Mr Collaery, whom she referred to as a “highly-regarded member of the legal profession”.
Legislation requires, she mused, that the ongoing proceedings pertaining to charges of conspiracy brought against Mr Collaery be conducted behind closed doors, which LCA has already said “offends the principles of open justice”, since holding proceedings other than in open court “contradicts a fundamental attribute of a fair trial”.
“It is a basic rule of the common law that the administration of justice should not take place behind closed doors but must take place in an open court,” Ms Wright proclaimed.
“Public faith in the administration of justice requires that justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done. Secrecy or suppression is only ever appropriate in those rare cases where the exceptions to open justice have been appropriately considered and applied.”
Reforms to the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 are required, Ms Wright continued, so as to ensure that the court maintains the interests of justice “without being directed to place greater weight on any one consideration”, such as national security, she said, over other equally important considerations.
“The Law Council considers the NSI Act currently tilts the balance too far in favour of the interests of protecting broadly-defined national security at the expense of the rights of the accused, and maintains that it is not a proportionate response to addressing the risk that information prejudicial to national security may be released,” she submitted.
LCA believes, Ms Wright outlined, that courts must be empowered to identify the relevant considerations and the degree of weight to be placed on each of them.
“The Law Council also believes that the suppression of disclosure or publication of judgments, convictions, sentences and sentencing remarks must be confined to the most exceptional cases,” she argued.
“The Law Council has long called for reform to the NSI Act to recalibrate the balance between the requirements of open justice and protecting the community against the disclosure of information that may genuinely prejudice national security. The Law Council has and will continue to monitor open court proceedings in this matter and will continue to advocate for changes to the legislation.”