New Zealand Law Society - Barristers concerned over name suppression breaches

Barristers concerned over name suppression breaches

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The New Zealand Bar Association has voiced its concern that the trial of the man accused of the murder of Grace Millane might be compromised by ongoing breaches of court orders suppressing the name and information about the accused.

There have been many breaches of the name suppression. At least seven English newspapers have published the accused's name. All the articles - presumably sourced from New Zealand - included a byline for a journalist.

An email sent by Google to people who had signed up to "what's trending in New Zealand" named the accused in its subject heading. Google has also reported that more than 100,000 searches were made using the name of the accused.

The New Zealand media appears not to have named the accused, but has run stories providing detailed information on matters such as his sporting career, comments by former flatmates and relatives, and other information allegedly about his character.

New Zealand Bar Association Vice-President Jonathan Eaton QC says that while the case has naturally sparked a very strong public response, the accused's fair trial rights need to be respected.

"There is an alarming trend in the reporting and the sharing of information in this case that could open the way to defence counsel arguing that the accused could not get a fair trial," he says.

Mr Eaton says these actions are not only endangering a fair trial but potentially any future trial at all.

“It is for example entirely inappropriate for media organisations and individuals to say where people can find information about the accused. The publicity about the accused undermines the prospect of finding an impartial jury.”

Mr Eaton says it is not just the media who have this responsibility to keep within the laws of the justice system. He says people sharing information on social media are equally bound by court orders.

“It is a criminal offence to breach a suppression order. It is punishable by up to six months imprisonment. Those who are breaching or helping others to breach or circumvent the court order are not helping, and as the Minister of Justice commented, an aborted trial will only add to the grief of the Millane Family.”

Mr Eaton says comments suggesting that the District Court judge should not have ordered interim name suppression were entirely wrong.

“Judges are bound by the law as much as anyone else, and the District Court judge in this case, by law, had to suppress the defendant’s name once it became clear that there would be an appeal against the judge’s initial decision to refuse suppression.”