Landmark privacy case in Australia

Melbourne Court awards damages against broadcaster for naming rape victim

In a decision that may usher in a privacy law in Australia, a rape victim has been awarded substantial damages after a she was wrongly identified in radio broadcasts by the ABC.

In a judgment handed down in Victoria’s County Court yesterday, judge Felicity Hampel recognised that she was creating a new “tort” law for privacy.

“The invasion or breach of privacy alleged here is an actionable wrong which gives rise to a right to recover damages according to the ordinary principles governing damages in tort,” the Judge said.

ABC radio revealed the real name of the rape victim in a report in 2002 when reporting the sentence handed down to her husband in breach of legislation prohibiting the identification of victims of sexual assault. 

Two defendants, journalist Valerio Veo and editor Terence Rickard, had previously pleaded guilty to criminal charges in relation to the naming of the woman and had provided a written apology. However, she sued the ABC and the journalists for compensation claiming breach of confidence, breach of privacy, negligence and breach of statutory duty. She succeeded with all four claims and was awarded AU$234,000 in damages by the Court (nearly £100,000).

In reaching her decision, the Judge relied heavily upon the development of privacy law in the UK even though Australia has no equivalent of the European Convention of Human Rights. She took the opportunity to recognise a privacy law in Australia – an option that the High Court of Australia had left open in the 2001 case of Lenah Game Meats v ABC.

Click here for the full judgment and 5RB case report.