Victims’ right to privacy

In South Australia much has been said about so-called ‘secrecy laws’ that are, among other things, intended to protect individuals privacy – no matter whether they be suspected sex offenders (Dillon, October 2018) or accused police officers (Hough & Henson, October 2018).  Recently the Attorney-General, Hon. Vicki Chapman has been accused of violating Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) secrecy laws  (Langenberg, November 2018; Wills, September 2018).

It is interesting that when police apprehend a suspect there is (with few exceptions) no mandatory suppression of the suspect’s identity, unless he or she is accused of certain sex offences.  Yet, if a police officer or other public official is a suspect under investigation by the ICAC for criminal offences it seems his or her identity is suppressed.

All suspects are presumed innocent, so arguably the same standard should apply.

As ICAC public hearings become more common, it will become necessary to review the ‘secrecy’ law, which could negatively impact victims.

It is crucial that victims’ privacy is not sacrificed; rather, victims’ privacy should be a paramount consideration.  If a decision, such as the release, publication or other of information is likely to impact a victim then he or she should be consulted and his or her views taken into account.

Similarly important are victims’ rights to know the progress and outcome of an investigation and/or proceedings.  This does not, however, necessarily require that victims’ views be made public – unless, of course, they approve.

Such said, transparency is central to public confidence on the integrity of an authority like the ICAC.

Transparency requires processes and decisions be open to public scrutiny. Transparency fosters accountability.  Notwithstanding, some processes and decisions should be made in camera (that is in private) but not all. 

Having regard for the public interest (which is fundamentally different to interesting among the public), the principles of open justice should prevail unless there are ‘special’ or ‘exceptional’ circumstances, such as harm to the victim.  And, certainly victims’ right to privacy should not be jeopardised simply because there is interest among the public.

Victims’ rights, such as their right to privacy, are right for South Australia.


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