Last week the Daily Telegraph revealed that the NSW Crown-Solicitor’s office is investigating whether state MP Peter Breen broke the law when he named a man convicted of the 1988 murder of Sydney woman Janine Balding. The man, known as B, was a juvenile when the crime was committed.

NSW Attorney-General’s office spokesman Angus Huntsdale has confirmed to Crikey that Breen, a former Labor MP, is being investigated over possible breaches of section 11 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 for naming B in his book about Balding’s murder. According to s11:

(1) The name of any of the following persons must not be published or broadcast in a way that connects the person with the criminal proceedings concerned:
(a) any person who:
(i) appears as a witness before a court in any criminal proceedings, or to whom any criminal proceedings relate, and
(ii) was a child [under 18] when the offence to which the proceedings relate was committed.

But the real question is: why is Breen being singled out for investigation? After all, he is not exactly the first person to publish B’s name.

According to the Telegraph report, Breen says he received advice from the Attorney-General’s office that he was able to name the man. And a quick glance at articles on the subject would only have served to support such advice.

A search of B’s name brings up about ten articles in The Sydney Morning Herald archives, including one mention last Saturday. Similarly, B has been named more than a dozen times in the Daily Telegraph since 1993, most recently in 2005. A quick internet search shows that B was also named in NSW Legislative Council Hansard in 2005 during discussions of whether never-to-be-released prisoners should be able to appeal their life sentences, on ABC’s PM program in 2003 and on the 7:30 Report in 2004.

Yet the law says B should not be named and should never have been named, says a spokesperson for the NSW Supreme Court. In sentencing a juvenile offender, a judge can “authorise the publication or broadcasting of the name of the person” (s11(4)B, Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987). But it would appear that the judge did not do this in the case of B.

So why no investigations into the media organisations who have repeatedly named B, while a troublesome former Labor MP comes under legal scrutiny for revealing a name that had already been widely circulated?

Surely it has nothing to do with … politics?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey