Underbelly: articles

Court rejects Nine's Underbelly appeal bid

THE Victorian Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by the Nine Network to show the gangland crime series, Underbelly, in Victoria.

Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, along with justices Murray Kellam and Frank Vincent handed down the decision today.

Nine appealed late last month against a suppression order placed on the series by Supreme Court Justice Betty King on February 15, which included the transmission, publishing, broadcasting and exhibiting of Underbelly in Victoria.

Justice King made the order because of concerns by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the series would prejudice a murder trial starting on March 31.

The series, a graphic account of Melbourne's deadly gangland war, is being broadcast in other states.

During the two-day appeal hearing which began on February 29, Nine's lawyer Ron Merkel, QC, said that Justice King had erred in placing a blanket ban on the TV series.

He argued her decision was based on viewing only two edited episodes of the series and another 10 unedited episodes.

"(It was) an erroneous idea by putting a blanket ban," Mr Merkel told the court.

He told the court that the first two episodes could be shown in Victoria before the upcoming murder trial.

"Because of her honour's all-or-nothing approach ... her honour made orders wider than necessary to protect the trial," Mr Merkel told the court.

But the DPP's Jeremy Rapke, QC, told the court that anyone could see "a dramatic parallel of fact and fiction" between the series and what happened in real life during Melbourne's gangland wars.

Mr Rapke said all 13 episodes would prejudice the trial.

"It could have problems for the jury in separating fact from fiction," Mr Rapke said during the appeal hearing.

Justice Vincent today said the court upheld Justice King's February 15 decision that Nine would not be allowed to broadcast the Underbelly series in Victoria until after the murder trial and any subsequent appeal period.

The Court of Appeal found that there was a serious risk of prejudice because of the "graphic nature'' of Underbelly being available to jurors immediately before and during the trial.

"The appeal is otherwise dismissed,'' Justice Vincent told the court.

The court has otherwise authorised the orders made by Justice King."

Mr Merkel and Mr Rapke declined to comment outside court.

March 26, 2008