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What is a suppression order?

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An alleged murderer of missing Victorian woman Samantha Murphy had his name censored under a suppression order, which has since been lifted.
Suppression orders have been used in many famous legal cases in Australia

A suppression order briefly blocked media outlets from reporting the name of the man who allegedly murdered missing Victorian woman Samantha Murphy.

The court has since lifted the order, revealing the alleged killer as 22-year-old Patrick Orren Stephenson, the son of former AFL player Orren Stephenson.

Many have questioned why his name was briefly censored when news of his arrest and charges first surfaced.

Suppression orders (or gag orders)

Australia’s judicial system is based on the principle of “open justice”. Court proceedings are normally available for the public to see and media to report on.

However, suppression orders (also known as gag orders) can be introduced to restrict what is made public.

When a gag order exists, it becomes an offence to publish details the judge has asked be kept secret.

Anyone who publishes those details can face prison time or heavy fines.

Why are suppression orders used?

There are several reasons why a judge could decide there is good enough reason to keep details like the names of alleged victims and perpetrators sealed from the public.

For example, alleged victims of crimes can request a suppression order to stop their name being revealed, because the stress of being in the public eye. Suppression orders can also protect children who are accused of, or victims of, crimes.

A judge might also allow an order if an alleged offender’s safety is at risk, including for mental health reasons.

A gag order could also be introduced if a person’s right to a fair trial is seen to be undermined by media publishing details.

If the media does not abide by these rules, they could be fined more than $500,000. Fines differ from state to state.

Media companies often make legal applications to stop gag orders from coming into effect. Usually, they will argue publishing the details are important for transparency.

Latest case

In the case of the alleged murder of Samantha Murphy, a suppression order was successfully sought due to concerns for the alleged perpetrator’s mental health and the risk of limiting the fairness of the trial.

This meant media could not publish his name. However, a group of media outlets made a legal argument against the order, saying it would not influence the trial.

On Friday, lawyers dropped the suppression order request and it was revealed that the man accused of murder is 22-year-old Victorian man Patrick Orren Stephenson.

Samantha Murphy

Samantha Murphy, 51, was last seen alive on 4 February. She was last seen leaving her home to go for a run in Ballarat, west of Melbourne.

Police are still searching for the body of the mother of three. They have also said they believe this was a “deliberate attack”.

Victoria Police have commented on the “high level” of media interest in the investigation. They saud: “It remains critical that any speculation does not impede any aspects of the investigation.”

Stephenson has not yet entered a plea.

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