Page 140 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004

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restrictions should again apply if an appeal is lodged and remain until the appeal is decided.

In relation to civil matters, it states:

As a general rule, matters before civil courts should not be referred to from the time they are set down for trial or otherwise brought before the court and, similarly, the restriction should again be applied from the time an appeal is lodged and remain until the appeal is decided.

That is the essential thrust or basis of the sub judice rule, as explained and set out in House of Representatives Practice and on which you, Mr Speaker, relied in the direction that you gave just recently. That is the situation we have before us. We have a matter before the Coroners Court, a civil matter. That matter, the inquest, is a judicial process. It is before a court and the sub judice rule does apply. An appeal in relation to a certain matter has been launched by nine individuals and by the territory. There is an appeal on foot. It is an appeal to the Supreme Court. All this talk about separation of powers and the extent to which this impinges on that is absolute nonsense. The matter is before the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. The law is being utilised, as the law is from time to time, to settle issues in dispute. Nine individuals, nine very fine Canberrans, have taken a decision to test a matter of very real concern to them individually. The territory has done the same. The matter has been referred to the Supreme Court.

Mr Stefaniak: And we are saying it is wrong for you to do so. That is getting to sub judice.

Mrs Dunne: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I seek your ruling because what the Chief Minister is doing is straying into the matter before the court, in a way that relates to nine individuals who are not represented here today. The point has been made time and again, and will be made time and again, that the motion brought by the opposition is about the actions of the Attorney-General. We do not comment or reflect in any way on the actions of the nine individual citizens of the ACT. We comment and reflect only on the actions of the first law officer. The Chief Minister should not be doing that.

MR SPEAKER: Chief Minister, please avoid commenting on the individual cases before the court.

MR STANHOPE: Sure, and the application of the sub judice rule and your right and correct decision in relation to its application are pursuant to the discretion which you have in relation to it. It is relevant, though, in a discussion around this to talk about why we have the sub judice convention. The sub judice convention is parallelled in the courts by laws in relation to contempt. They are essentially a twin set of processes or procedures and contempt laws relate to the need to avoid the public expression of opinions, particularly by persons of influence such as politicians, on matters respectively before courts or perhaps a parliament.

In relation to the sub judice rule or rules in relation to parliamentary privilege, there are certain rules by which parliaments and politicians apply to themselves a discipline in relation to a greater interest: the right, of course, to an expression of an opinion and the need for matters of public importance to be debated are fundamental to the strength of our democracy. But politicians, through the sub judice rule, have imposed on themselves

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