Victims of teenage criminals will be allowed to share their stories in the media thanks to Victoria’s proposed changes allowing journalists to identify Children’s Court witnesses.
Journalists were warned in August they faced potential jail time if they identified witnesses to a Children’s Court case, but Attorney-General Martin Pakula says the law wasn’t intended to prevent victims from speaking out.
“It’s not appropriate for victims of crime, even victims of crime committed by young people, to not be able to tell their stories in the public domain,” Mr Pakula told reporters on Friday.
“In the criminal law, if someone is the victim of a crime by a young person, they should be able to tell that story with no legal impediment and no hesitation from media outlets to be able to report it.”
Children’s Court president Judge Amanda Chambers sent a letter to media outlets in August, warning journalists they could face jail if they identified witnesses to cases.
But Mr Pakula said it’s an old piece of legislation and it needs to be changed, “so there is no doubt about it in the future”.
None of the proposed changes will allow young offenders to be identified and they will only apply to the criminal division of the Children’s Court, not family law cases.
Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies says the change will be a victory for victims and for common sense.
“Victims overwhelmingly say they want to tell their story for the sole purpose of preventing other people from becoming victims,” Mr Davies said.
“There are many victims either through this legislation or suppression orders that haven’t been able to talk about being a victim for decades.
“This gives them the right of free speech.”
Mr Pakula said the proposed changes are consistent with recommendations from Justice Frank Vincent, who is currently finalising his Open Courts Act review, due at the end of September.
The government says it will work with the Children’s Court as it prepares to bring changes to legislation by the end of the year.