The dangers of suppression

One of the most difficult tasks in the modern world of social media is keeping the name secret for someone qualifying for name suppression during a court case.

Recently, there have been instances of people revealing the name of a prominent Central Otago man on social media - including by a former MP - after the man was granted final name suppression.

The man accepted a sentence indication of discharge without conviction, on payment of $6500 reparation to the female complainant who applied to have her own name suppression lifted so she could talk about the incident.

The MP has been before the court, but his case has been adjourned until later this year.

Name suppression means a person's name and any details that may identify them cannot be published - for example, the person's name cannot be published in a newspaper article about the case.

Former justice minister Judith Collins introduced law reforms several years ago said to make it harder to get name suppression, and representing a substantial reform to criminal procedure.

The new legislation was meant to add clarity to the laws surrounding name suppression. It was often granted too easily and inconsistently prior to the legislation.

The Criminal Procedure Act 2011, which contains the new legislation, set out a clear set of criteria for the courts to use when deciding whether suppression is appropriate or not.

Ms Collins said at the time there is no reason for a defendant to get name suppression simply because they are famous.

Automatic name suppression continues to apply to victims of specified sexual offending, defendants in cases of incest or sexual conduct with a dependent family member, and child witnesses.

Media organisations have fought constantly against suppression orders which, in a relatively small place like Central Otago, have led to much speculation about the identity of the well-known Central Otago man.

In fact, a quick search on the internet will provide the identity, as will a quick search provide the details of many other offenders receiving permanent name suppression.

One of the most prominent cases was a North Island entertainer who received suppression on a sexual violation conviction.

Entertainers throughout the country were appalled at the thought of people looking at them as though they were paedophiles.

While the law has been changed, judges and the legal system have been slow to follow. It is unreasonable, except in the most secret of circumstances, for the judicial system to expect a suppression order to remain.

Realistically, the name of someone in court could be posted on social media, along with any charges, before any decision is made on name suppression.

A new generation of New Zealanders either no longer understand the law - or they just do not care.

And not caring can lead to some dangerous and unwelcome developments - such as the latest Central Otago breach of suppression case which has led to a man appearing in court for breaking a suppression order.

New Zealanders should not take the law into their own hands by publishing names of people appearing in court while suppression orders are in place.

However, how will this be stopped? A conviction of bloggers, in particular, will enrage the online community of followers and likely lead to further breaches.

Offshore-based internet servers have also been used to name and shame New Zealand child sex offenders, a situation which the New Zealand legal system is powerless to prevent.

In an era where information can circle the globe in seconds, a serious rethink on suppression orders needs to happen.

The public has an insatiable curiosity for the names behind suppression, and the media will continue to fight for a more open process. It is now up to the judiciary, and the Government, to find a way through the difficult process.


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