This is not about me. Make no mistake. I may be the whipping boy but this is about a court system perplexed and possibly powerless over a hydra-headed instant communications thing called social media. A lighting fast international information system, often undisciplined, reckless and defamatory with which judges and politicians are trying to wrestle.
They may be able to inhibit it but they can't control it. Even totalitarian states like China and North Korea find their jackboots can't kill internet opinion. Today, Judge Geoffrey Nettle in the Victorian Supreme Court ordered that I be charged with contempt of court over matters covered on this website last Friday. Comments made under headline 'Jill Meagher' and dealing with the man, Adrian Bayley, who has now pleaded guilty to her rape and murder.
On Friday, Bayley - who had earlier pleaded guilty to the charge of raping Ms Meagher -- changed his plea to guilty on the charge of murder.
On Friday morning the Herald Sun ran an explosive front page article containing information about Bayley and his family. The newspaper also predicted that Bayley was about to change his murder plea to guilty. I figured they must have confirmed that with court sources or his lawyer. Not something you would punt on.
I made no mention of that in my editorial on HumanHeadline.com.au because I had no confirmation of that and because I was posting my editorial before the court convened. An erratic man could change his mind.
And this is why I believe, with respect, that Judge Nettle is barking up the wrong tree.
Friday Thoughts was posted Friday morning. The judge's almost blanket suppression order had not then been made. I could understand if he was angry though because the Herald Sun story did push to the edge of the legal envelope. In fact, I was recently talking to a senior lawyer, well versed on contempt and defamation law, and he said the media guide book on what could and couldn't be published pre-trial had been ' virtually ripped up' over the Meagher case.
That is why, I think, the courts are angry and worried, and need to make an example.
I was still on 3AW when the Meagher case was unfolding and we had to show a lot of skill and take a lot of legal advice as Twitter pre-trial, went crazy.
The subject matter, in the now disputed editorial, was actually obtained from an impeccable senior Police source in September last year. I did not use any of it back then because of pre-trial restrictions.
I mentioned it on Friday because it seemed to dovetail with the information published that morning in the Herald Sun. And Bayley had already pleased guilty to rape.
Another salient point: I was in Sydney on Friday when I wrote that story.
Did not get back to Melbourne until Saturday night and did not read about the suffocating suppression order until Monday. Yesterday's Herald Sun carried an extensive report which included a paragraph that incensed me enough to tweet about it.
The story said Bayley had been remanded to reappear for plea and sentencing on June 11, that no members of the Meagher family were in court, and then this:
'No other aspects of the arraignment hearing can be reported for legal reasons'. I tweeted:' Justice being seen to be done? Bayley pleaded guilty to Jill Meagher's rape/murder. Why did Judge Nettle suppress so much material?'
It still intrigues me. Bayley has pleaded guilty. There will be no jury trial so no way anything reported can influence them. Was all material suppressed for legal reasons or some of it on the grounds of 'good taste'?
I intend to plead Not Guilty to the contempt charge for some of the reasons mentioned above. I am not a cowboy and take our courts and contempt issues very seriously. But justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Our courts must be transparent.
I know, if convicted on this charge, my chances of avoiding jail are not good. Because of my priors, the only reason I got five months of house arrest less than two years ago was because of my health. I was on the transplant waiting list and had to be less than 45 minutes away from the Austin Hospital at any time. Being sent to Port Phillip Prison could have been a death sentence.
Now my health is good. I have lived a year longer than I thought I would and maybe five years longer than some people hoped I would. That probably includes some people in the legal profession.
Footnote: Having said all that I have still received no word from the Supreme Court. I was not even shown the courtesy of being invited to appear this morning to hear what Judge Nettle had to say about me before ordering the contempt proceedings. I only heard a rumour from a journo and a lawyer ast night.
Hence these tweets last night:
No appearance your Honour. Weird rumour from a journo and a lawyer. Hinch ordered to appear Supreme Court 9.30am over Bayley tweets.
And the clarifier:
Things starting to coagulate. Seems Supreme Court miffed about Friday Thoughts blog on http://humanheadline.com.au not tweets.
Obviously 'miffed' was not a strong enough word.