While handing down the six-year jail sentence for Cardinal George Pell, Chief Judge Peter Kidd of the County Court of Victoria explained that the live broadcasting of the sentencing hearing was done in accordance with “transparent and open justice” - something the Law Council of Australia has fully supported.
In his sentencing remarks, Chief Judge Kidd noted that counsel for the cardinal had objected to the broadcasting of those remarks to the public, and that said broadcast would subsequently remain on the internet.
“The defence submitted that, if I chose to proceed with the broadcast, I should take this into account as further extra-curial punishment. I should also consider that this will further adversely affect your experience in custody, according to the argument.”
“The essence of the complaint is that the broadcast of a robed judge delivering sentence will have a potency significantly greater than the publication of the written word. This constitutes additional punishment and opprobrium, according to the defence submission,” His Honour noted.
However, Chief Judge Kidd did not accept that submission, noting that the sentencing remarks would have always been delivered orally in open court and reported by the media without restriction.
“Even if my sentencing remarks were just delivered orally in open court and published in writing, the public would still be inundated with reports of my sentencing remarks and findings. Delivered in that way, the sentencing remarks would still carry the full weight of my judicial authority, as they should. Further, the media coverage of them would have been, in any event, at saturation levels,” His Honour said.
The broadcast of the sentencing remarks, therefore, would not communicate anything of substance more than they would had the court communicated them or delivered them orally in open court and published them in writing, His Honour surmised.
“As the publicity will already be at saturation levels, I fail to see how the fact of the broadcast of my remarks will materially change the levels of coverage.”
“On that basis, I do not consider the broadcast per se will have any material impact on the levels of publicity and your experience in custody, over and above the publication of my written sentencing remarks,” Chief Judge Kidd said.
“Even if it is the case that a visual broadcast of my sentence is imbued with further judicial authority, this cannot be a legitimate basis for objection. It entails no punishment. The argument advanced by your counsel, with respect, is irrational.”
In His Honour’s opinion, the broadcasting of the sentencing remarks was “simply a clear demonstration of transparent and open justice and an accessible communication of the work of the court” for the community in a case of such public interest.
“The broadcast does not constitute additional extra-curial punishment. Irrespective of the means of the delivery of my sentencing remarks, I nevertheless accept that your ongoing notoriety will continue to be exacerbated by the deluge of publicity which will follow my sentence.”
The court should open their doors to cameras more often, Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses SC said yesterday on ABC Radio, praising Kidd CJ for delivering his sentencing remarks on a live broadcast.
High-profile cases need such spotlight, he argued, so that the general public can get a better understanding of how the justice system works.
“I think it’s very important that the public always have access to what is going on in our courts, and broadcasting the sentencing of George Pell allowed the public to examine the demeanour of the judge, as she or he is dealing with the matter, the tone of their voice, and the carefully constructed considerations that go into delivering a judgment,” he said.
“At the moment in Australia, there’s no statutory prohibition for electronic media access to the courts. In this digital age, and especially in high-profile cases, judges need to examine whether this is the best way to assist in the administration of justice, because the more informed the community is about the work that judges do, the more confidence they will have in the court system.”