Pseudonyms in Historic Child Sexual Abuse

Published 08 May 2019 by Koffels Solicitors & Barristers

The Use of Suppression Orders and Pseudonyms in Historic Child Sexual Abuse Cases

A common barrier to seeking compensation for people who have suffered sexual abuse as a child in institutional settings is a sense of fear. Additionally embarrassment or shame occur at the prospect of being identified as a victim/survivor of child sexual abuse.

The decision to seek redress for historic child sexual abuse is a deeply personal one.

Many people do not want their peers, co-workers, colleagues, friends or even family knowing that they were abused. The notion of other people “finding out” is, in itself, a traumatic idea for some people.

When considering commencing a civil claim for compensation in court, many clients ask if they have to be publically identified by their full name in the proceedings.

The short answer is no.

Your experienced legal practitioner can apply to the court for a suppression order and for a pseudonym to be used in the proceedings in place of your name.

Suppression OrderWhat is a Suppression Order?

A suppression order is an order made on application at the discretion of the court. This prevents people and organisations from publishing certain details of a court case. This may include names and identities of people, details of offences or details of evidence given.

When are they used?

Suppression orders are used in both criminal and civil proceedings throughout Australia.

In New South Wales, the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act 2010 (NSW), gives the court the power to suppress the name and identity of a person involved in a court matter. There is similar legislation in other States and Territories around Australia.

In the case of persons seeking compensation for historic child sexual abuse, the plaintiff (the person seeking compensation in a civil case before the court), can instead be identified by a pseudonym, usually a sequence of letters such as “ABC” or “XYZ”.

A recent example of the use of suppression orders that has gained significant media attention is the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. The identity of the victims in the trial was, and remains, suppressed. A great deal of attention has been given to the prevention of the Australian media in reporting the outcome of the first trial until the suppression orders were lifted when the second criminal trial was abandoned.

Where do they apply?

The order usually applies in the place or places that the order specifies.

However, the court has the power to ensure that the order applies throughout the Commonwealth of Australia. Accordingly this means all States and Territories.
Jurisdictions around the country also have similar legislation. Likewise this gives them the power to suppress and limit names and information made publically available.

What factors need to be considered?

In deciding whether to grant an order, the court must take into account the primary objective of the administration of justice is to safeguard the public interest in open justice.
Correspondingly there are a number of grounds upon which the court will consider making a suppression order or non-publication order, including where is it necessary:

  • to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice;
  • also, to prevent prejudice to the interests of the Commonwealth or a State or Territory. This in relation to national or international security;
  • to protect the safety of any person;
  • to avoid causing undue distress or embarrassment to a party to or witness in criminal proceedings involving an offence of a sexual nature; and
  • that the creation of the order is in the public’s best interest. Also that public interest significantly outweighs the interest in open justice.

How long do they apply?

The order applies for the periods decided by the court and specified in the order. Also this should be for no longer than is reasonably necessary to achieve the purpose for which it is made.

What happens if a you do not comply with a suppression order?

A suppression order is serious. It is an offence to contravene a suppression order. As such the court can impose a monetary fine or even a period of imprisonment as punishment.

Who can I talk to about this?

If you are considering making a claim for compensation, but distressed at the prospect of your name appearing in court proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced legal advisors for a confidential consultation.

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