Gina Rinehart’s legal battle to force a journalist to divulge source material about her family feud in Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd v Hancock  WASC 290 has been dismissed. Justice Pritchard described the billionaire’s tactics as ‘an abuse of process’ in a move that has upheld current WA Shield laws for journalists.
Rinehart had subpoenaed reporter Steve Pennells and his employer, "The West Australian" newspaper more than 18 months ago. Before the Supreme Court, her Honour defended WA’s journalistic ‘Shield Laws’, which lawyers for Mr Pennells argued would definitely be breached if Ms Rinehart was granted access to sources.
Shield laws in WA are very similar to those which exist in other states of Australia. They protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources in an arrangement similar to that of lawyer/client privilege.
Her Honour went on to say:
‘If the Shield Laws do not apply in respect of the production of documents under a subpoena, the very protections the Shield Laws are designed to provide could be significantly undermined, if not rendered nugatory’.
The decision, as Mr Pennells said, represented both a win for him and for journalism. ‘It has enshrined in the judgment the things that we hold sacred in journalism. The right to protect sources, the right for people to come to us and tell us things and not be worried they can use the courts to try and get at them.’ This decision should highlight the urgent need for national shield laws to grow across the country.
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