Murder trial judge bans underworld show
A Supreme Court judge has issued a suppression order banning Channel Nine from broadcasting the gangland TV series Underbelly - which was due to premiere nationally tomorrow - in Victoria or on the internet.
The network might now resort to an urgent appeal to overturn the order.
Justice Betty King's order prohibits the broadcast of the 13-part series until the conclusion of an upcoming murder trial. The accused murderer cannot be named.
Justice King said it was more important that the criminal justice process worked rather than that Channel Nine made a profit.
She made the order this morning after an application by senior Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Horgan, SC, to prohibit the showing of Underbelly, a graphic TV dramatisation of Melbourne's underworld war, until the end of the trial.
Mr Horgan said that, after viewing the series yesterday and overnight, the Crown felt the program contained material that would mean the defendant would not get a fair trial.
He revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, had also viewed episodes one to five and 12, and his advice was that the material would adversely affect the right of the accused to a fair trial and could affect a forthcoming committal hearing into the murder of Victor Peirce.
Nine's barrister Brendan Murphy, QC, who vigorously opposed the suppression application, said outside court his client would now investigate all legal avenues open to it.
It is believed this could include an application, possibly later today, before the Supreme Court to stay Justice King's order pending a full appeal argument which might free Nine to air the show as scheduled.
Channel Nine said in a statement that it was considering its options but would not comment further.
Yesterday Justice King gave prosecution and defence lawyers 24 hours to view more than 10 hours of the series and return to court today to tell whether it had the potential to affect the forthcoming trial.
Lawyers acting for the network yesterday handed over DVD copies of the 13 episodes yesterday after being subpoenaed by the Office of Public Prosecutions last week.
Justice King, who also viewed the series yesterday, today said the conversations in the drama would largely be "a figment of someone's imagination".
"It will be difficult for the viewing public to sift through what is factual material and what is fictional," she said.
"The series explains to a large degree why the person was murdered. That is really what is the subject [of] the trial."
Justice King said the series had an unfortunate aspect in that it tended to corroborate evidence associated with the trial.
She said she had a responsibility to weigh up the interests of the community and commercial interests of Nine.
"It's got to be a balance with the client's needs and the needs of the community," she said.
When the hearing resumed yesterday before Justice King, the accused murderer's solicitor, Anthony Brand, applied to adjourn the trial for three months.
Mr Brand said the material in Underbelly and in a recent republished book prejudiced his client's position.
Channel Nine had hoped that Underbelly would resurrect its ratings slump.
February 12, 2008
Sydney Morning Herald
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