When politics, the media and the judiciary collide: The Yarra Three as a Case Study in Contempt

Professor David Rolph, University of Sydney, examines the jurisdiction to punish contempt of court, highlighting the fraught relationship between politicians and the judiciary.


The jurisdiction to punish contempt of court is exercised sparingly in Australia. Thus, when three Federal Government Ministers are summoned by the Victorian Court of Appeal to address the court as to why they should not be prosecuted for contempt of court over comments made to a national newspaper, the incident is worth close examination. In June 2017, The Australian newspaper published a front-page story, ‘Judiciary “light on terrorism”’. The article includes quotes from Federal Government Ministers, Greg Hunt, Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge, all representing electorates in Victoria. The comments were highly critical of Victorian judges’ sentencing in cases involving terrorism-related offences. The impetus for the Ministers’ comments was a news report about an appeal hearing before the Victorian Court of Appeal, in which the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions was the appellant and the decision was reserved. The three Ministers – dubbed, by sections of the media, ‘the Yarra Three’ – soon found themselves in legal difficulty when the Victorian Court of Appeal summoned them to answer why they should not be dealt with for contempt of court. For a fortnight, the Federal Government confronted a serious political and legal crisis, which was only resolved by the Victorian Court of Appeal’s ultimate decision not to refer the Yarra Three for prosecution for contempt. The Yarra Three affair brought into sharp relief how little understood the principles for contempt of court are, as well as highlighting the sometimes fraught relationship between politicians and the judiciary and the tensions between the Federal and State levels of government in Australia.

All welcome. The event is free to attend, but registration is required.

About the speaker

David Rolph is a Professor at the University of Sydney Law School, specialising in media law. He is the author of two books, as well as many book chapters and journal articles, on all aspects of media law. From 2007 to 2013, Professor Rolph was the editor of the Sydney Law Review, one of Australia’s leading law journals. He currently serves on the editorial boards of the Media and Arts Law Review, the Communications Law Bulletin, Communications Law and the International Journal of the Semiotics of Law. Professor Rolph is also a regular columnist for the Gazette of Law and Journalism and a frequent media commentary on a range of media law issues.

Location details

Moot Court Room
The Liberty Building
Moorland Road
University of Leeds

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