An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
BACK TO TOPThis means section 14 forbids a newspaper from publishing anything about anyone’s treatment or stay in hospital — no matter how important that person may be or what that person may have done in hospital. I would argue that this section unjustifiably limits the right to freedom of expression because it is over-broad and, in effect, prohibits newspapers from uncovering corruption, maladministration or abuse of power if it relates to hospitals.
The allegation that the health minister had abused her power to jump the queue for a liver transplant is a case in point. It is exactly the role of a free press to uncover the abuse of power by the custodians of our constitution.
If the minister had in fact abused her power in such a despicable way — which is something she denies — the public interest would overwhelmingly require newspapers to publish this relevant information to allow voters to decide for themselves what to think of the government of the day and whom to vote for in the next election.
Yet, if a newspaper published allegations of such abuse of power and relied on the medical records of the minister, it would be contravening section 14 of the National Health Act and would be committing a criminal offence. Section 14 can thus in effect be used by public figures to prevent the publication of embarrassing and damning details about corruption and abuse of power. This makes the section overly broad and, I would contend, unconstitutional.