The Victorian coroner will hold an inquest into the deaths of four children who had been the subject of multiple reports to the state’s child protection authorities before they died.
The unrelated children, aged between six months and 13 years old, died between 2015 and 2017, documents before the court show. The children cannot be identified for legal reasons.
The state coroner, Judge John Cain, will investigate how child protection handled reports made about the children, which in some cases occurred on as many as six occasions, or before the child was even born.
On Friday, the coroner’s office informed the media that an application had been made by the secretary of Victoria’s department of families, fairness and housing for a suppression order regarding the proceedings.
In support of its application, the department provided various details about the children’s cases.
This included the extent of their involvement with the children before they died, the extent of their involvement with the siblings of some children, and, in some cases, details about those who had faced criminal charges in relation to the deaths.
The submissions made by Erin Gardner and Estelle Frawley, counsel for the department secretary Sandy Pitcher, contend that Cain should suppress the names of all children subject to the inquest. This was because it balanced the ability to report fairly on the inquest proceedings with obligations not to breach acts that relate to identifying children who were subject to court proceedings.
“The suppression order, as currently drafted, appropriately balances the public interest in allowing publication against the public interest that there is no inadvertent breach of [the act] and the importance of protecting sensitive information relating to children,” the department says in its submission.
“The current order only suppresses very limited information from publication and is narrow in scope.
“Importantly, it allows the publication of the circumstances of the proceeding, including any appropriate recommendations to prevent similar deaths which will allow the coroner to fulfil his important functions and investigate all the matters in the proposed scope of investigation and for the media to report on the outcome of the investigation.”
The court was unable to provide further details about the scope of the inquest.