Judge and Jury

Craig Dunlop has been the senior court-reporter at the NT News since early 2016. Such is life for court reporters in small towns that it’s relatively common for Dunlop to get post-release poison-pen emails from crims who months before have had their exploits written up by him in the local rag.

But in his time he’s also also managed to get up the nose of a few judges.

Last August, Dunlop fronted the NT Supreme Court before Chief Justice Michael Grant not as a journalist but as a respondent to a charge of criminal contempt of the court in the matter of R v Nationwide News and Craig Dunlop.

On Thursday, six months almost to the day following the hearing, Dunlop was back in court to hear his fate.

The whole saga dates back to a Saturday night in early December 2016, when Shane Liam Hitchcock sucker-punched Rhys White at the corner of Knuckey and Smith Streets in the Darwin CBD.

That single punch was caught on CCTV tape and, as is depressingly usual with such goings-on, Hitchcock was nabbed in short order and his matter was subsequently listed for sentence before Justice Judith Kelly in the NT Supreme Court on March 9 2017.

Hitchcock — a “cleanskin” — received nine months in jail for what Dunlop described in his piece in the NT News the next day as a “coward punch”. On the afternoon that Justice Kelly’s handed down her sentence, Dunlop applied to the court for access to the CCTV footage — access that had already been granted to the local Channel Nine franchise and that was broadcast there that evening.

On his return to the office Dunlop filed his piece and the footage made its way to the NT News website where it was posted behind the paper’s subscriber-only paywall at around midnight on March 9.

So far so good. Except that when Dunlop was given access to the CCTV footage it was subject to a number of conditions that included, among other things, that the footage “not be published on the internet.” Late on the afternoon of March 10 the Registrar of the NT Supreme Court — having viewed the CCTV footage behind the paywall — wrote to Dunlop requesting that the CCTV footage be removed immediately and seeking reasons why she shouldn’t commence proceedings for contempt.

The video was removed from the NT News website shortly after. Four days later lawyers for News Corp Australia wrote to the Registrar in response to her email providing reasons why the footage was published — including strong public interest justifications — and noting that the NT News had published a number of articles about similar incidents over the previous months. Lawyers submitted that the Registrar’s complaint ” … should not be referred for consideration of a contempt prosecution.”

Notwithstanding those submissions, the Registrar made an application by originating motion to the NT Supreme Court on June 16, alleging contempt of court by the NT News and Dunlop.

Contempt of court cases are relatively rare, and I am only aware of two prosecutions in the NT in recent years. One is the 2003 case of O’Brien v Northern Territory

The more recent—and certainly more colourful—case is that of Trevor “the Rubbish Warrior” Jenkins that Ellie Turner examined at the NT News here at first instance before Justice Peter Barr and Jenkins’ subsequent conviction before Justice Judith Kelly in May 2016 when Jenkins received a jail sentence.

As fate would have it, Dunlop was in court when Jenkins stripped naked in the dock during his sentencing proceedings, declaring “Trevor Jenkins will never be crushed”, before the Rubbish Warrior was taken down to the cells and sent off for a spell at Holtze Prison.

Read the rest at Bob Gosford’s blog,  The Northern Myth

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey