A journalist and major news publisher have been adjudged guilty of contempt of court by the Supreme Court of Victoria following a civil proceeding brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
DPP John Champion S.C. issued the proceeding following the abandonment of a murder trial in the Supreme Court after an article containing material that was not the subject of evidence before the jury was published on the Yahoo 7 news website.
The jury empanelled in the trial of Mataio Jordan Aleluia on one count of murder of Brittany Harvie was discharged after the article, written and posted online by Yahoo 7 journalist Krystal Johnson, was discovered to reveal allegations of previous violence perpetrated by the accused against the victim.
The trial judge discharged the jury to avoid the risk of unfair prejudice to the accused.
In its judgment in the civil proceeding handed down on 28 November, the Supreme Court said the article had the effect of bringing to the reader’s attention facts that they were not otherwise entitled to know and which were prejudicial to the accused’s right to a fair trial.
“For centuries, a ‘golden rule’ has been observed by journalists and publishers that while proceedings are being tried before the courts, information that is not admitted as evidence before the jury is not reported or published to prevent the possibility that the jury is influenced by prejudicial, extraneous, or irrelevant information,” the Supreme Court said.
Mr Champion said the judgment sends a clear message that journalists and publishers need to take special care when publishing material concerning matters that are before a court.
Details of the civil proceedings remained suppressed until today’s verdict in the adjourned trial, in which Aleluia was found guilty of murder.
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