Changes to proposed name suppression rules urged
Restrictions on the media’s right to be heard in respect of court name suppression orders under the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill appear arbitrary and should be changed, the New Zealand Law Society said today.
Speaking about the Society’s submission on the Bill to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral committee, the convenor of its criminal law committee, Jonathan Krebs, says the Bill currently restricts the right to be heard to official members of the media who are subject to the jurisdiction of either the Press Council or the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
“This seems an arbitrary basis on which to deny a right to be heard in respect of a suppression order,” Mr Krebs says. “Media who are not subject to the jurisdiction of one of the two complaints bodies may still have a proper interest in being heard.”
Mr Krebs says that until quite recently, such media organisations as ACP Media and the National Business Review refused to accept the jurisdiction of the Press Council. The Law Society firmly believes that other legitimate news media organisations – including online media – should be allowed standing to be heard in appropriate cases.
The Bill proposes a number of major changes to the procedures and processes for name suppression in New Zealand’s courts. The Law Society’s submission states that the test of “extreme” hardship proposed for name suppression was pitched too high.
“We believe this is particularly so where the defendant still enjoys a presumption of innocence or has been acquitted, or where the hardship would be suffered by a person connected with the defendant,” Mr Krebs says. “’Serious’ hardship or the ‘undue hardship’ in another clause of the Bill is more appropriate, particularly before conviction or after an acquittal.”
The Law Society feels that the circumstances listed in the Bill for making suppression orders are wide. There could be a risk that the principles of open justice and freedom of expression are not given appropriate weight in determining whether name suppression should be granted.
“The process would be improved by including a requirement for the court to consider the principles of open justice and freedom of expression, to ensure that these values are given appropriate weight,” Mr Krebs says.
The Law Society’s submission also argues against raising the age at which victims can apply for publication to be permitted of identifying information about the person who has offended against them or about themselves, from the current 16 to 18.
“Because the Judge must be satisfied that the victim knows the nature and effect of the decision to apply for such an order, there seems to be no basis for increasing the age at which victims can apply for publication to be permitted,” Mr Krebs says.