Reform overdue in secrecy acts

Our submission to the Government’s Open Government Partnership commitments calls for a major review and reform of Commonwealth laws that allow secret prosecutions, trials and imprisonment.

You didn’t know this was happening? Well, yes – that’s the whole idea ….

A 15-month inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2010 identified 506 secrecy provisions in 176 pieces of Commonwealth legislation, including 358 criminal secrecy offences. The Commonwealth Criminal Code, the common law, state laws or the National Security Information (Criminal and Civic Proceedings) Act, also known as the NSI Act, all allow for courts to operate in secret.

In 2010, the Law Reform Commission recommended the repeal of the wide secrecy provisions such as sections 70 and 79 of the Crimes Act, and the introduction of a new general secrecy offence limited to disclosures that harm essential public interests.

Sections 70 and 79 were repealed last year but were replaced by parts of the Criminal Code that some argue have an even wider application.

An Australian citizen and former military intelligence officer was prosecuted, convicted and jailed in complete secrecy in 2017. This only came to light when a court in the ACT dealt with (and dismissed) his complaint against the prison and its withdrawal of his communication privileges after he wrote of his experiences in jail.

‘Open justice was one of the fundamental attributes of a fair trial.”

Arthur Moses SC, President Law Council of Australia

The Open Government Partnership is also something of a secret. This is an international agreement we signed up to and then ignored for a while.

Countries that sign up are supposed to make annual commitments – called OGP Action Plans – to reforms that improve transparency and openness in government. They are also supposed to involve citizens in these reforms. So far Australia’s commitments have been underwhelming but the Government is now developing its 3rd Action Plan and looking for ‘ideas’.

See here to get your ideas in.

Share this: