Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 2 Hansard (16 February) . . Page.. 470..
MR SPEAKER (continuing):
other parties have taken action in the Supreme Court about possible apprehended bias by the coroner undertaking that inquest.
In deciding whether to invoke the convention for debates, questions and motions concerning both proceedings in the Supreme Court and the Coroners Court, I intend to follow the same principles that are set out in the 11th edition of Odgers, namely, that there should be an assessment of whether there is a real danger of prejudice in the sense that it would cause real prejudice to the outcome of the trial or inquest; that the danger of prejudice must be weighed against the public interest in the matters under discussion; and that the danger of prejudice is greater when a matter is actually before a magistrate or a jury. And it should be noted that magistrates undertake the duties of a coroner in the ACT.
It might be said that, this being a subject of public debate and much interest in the media, it is in the public interest that these matters be discussed here in the chamber. The difficulty, of course, is that reports that occur in the media are subject to the scrutiny of the courts and the courts might defend either the applicants or the defendants by way of their own powers for those sorts of matters that are reported in the media. But when matters are discussed in here, such as matters that may well be evidentiary, the court has no similar power it can use in the case of matters that have been dealt with in the Assembly.
So I ask members to be mindful of this issue when making comments in the Assembly on these matters, and I will rule that, in relation to matters still before the coroner, members should restrain their comments about the cause of death of the four persons involved. In relation to matters before the Supreme Court, I ask that members refrain from addressing issues in relation to the apprehension of bias in the conduct of the coronial inquest.
Mrs Dunne: Mr Speaker, could I just seek clarification on your statement? It is my understanding that the coroner has actually determined the cause of death of the four people who died in the fires.
MR SPEAKER: My understanding is that there has been no-
Mrs Dunne: It is probably not pertinent to the matter here today, but my understanding is that she has.
MR SPEAKER: The coroner's report has not been made; so the matter is still afoot.
Mr Seselja: Could I clarify, Mr Speaker, the last point? Just on the apprehension of bias, I assume you are talking about the claims of apprehension of bias against Coroner Doogan.
MR SPEAKER: Yes.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (11.56): I move: