Parts of the William Tyrrell inquest will be held in secret after a NSW coroner ruled it was in the interest of justice for some witnesses to give evidence behind closed doors.
A handful of the 54 people on a draft witnesses list have been assigned pseudonyms and granted permission to give evidence before just the coroner, lawyers and court staff.
The inquest into William’s disappearance is being held five years after the three-year-old vanished while playing at his foster grandmother’s home in Kendall on the mid north coast.
Deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame on Tuesday said she faced a difficult balancing exercise after a media company argued the court should remain open or, alternatively, evidence should be released in redacted transcripts.
Public scrutiny of the court and its processes was an important factor in delivering justice, the coroner said, but publication had the potential to frustrate its operation.
“It may seem unusual (to close the court) … but it is a regular process,” Ms Grahame said.
“Not on a daily basis but it happens from time to time. Closing the court is a difficult step but it is sometimes necessary.”
The Nine Network and Nine newspapers were supported in their application by a lawyer representing a previous person of interest in the case.
Peter O’Brien labelled the secret hearings “perplexing and unreasonable”, adding he’d been prevented access to the court orders explaining who and why some witnesses would be heard behind closed doors.
“This should be as open as possible,” the lawyer said.
Counsel assisting the coroner Gerald Craddock argued while it was frustrating for lawyers, the court needed to be closed in some circumstances.
“If it were possible to broaden the scope of those who have access to certain orders … then we would do so,” he said.
“It’s wrong to say people haven’t been considered.”
The lawyer representing the NSW Police commissioner also opposed Nine’s application.
Ms Grahame said the issue was not about freedom of speech or the press but the proper operation of justice.