Trial by media of Theo Theophanous

16 October 2008

LIBERTY Victoria has expressed disquiet about the trial by media of State Parliamentarian Theo Theophanous. Liberty President, Julian Burnside QC, said there was a grave risk that Mr Theophanous could not receive a fair trial because of prejudicial media reporting of the allegations against him.

“It is highly irregular for allegations of serious criminal conduct to be aired in public even before charges have been laid. This is especially so when the allegations relate to an alleged incident ten years ago”, Mr Burnside said, “The fact that Mr Theophanous is a public figure does not justify a departure from the normal course.”

Mr Burnside said there ought to be no prejudgment either way about the allegations against Mr Theophanous but that the publicity surrounding them made that difficult. “There are echoes of the Haneef case here,” Mr Burnside said, “We learnt from that experience how much damage can be done when the media play judge and jury.”

Mr Burnside said Liberty Victoria supports freedom of expression and a free press but that in some areas the press are under a duty to exercise restraint. “Our criminal justice system is based on the fundamental principle that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Mr Theophanous has not been interviewed by police, and has not been charged, yet he has been forced out of office. The press have a responsibility not to use untested allegations in a way calculated to destroy a person’s reputation.”