The Contempt of Court Bill had its third reading on 20 August 2019. A member's bill introduced by former MP Christopher Finlayson QC, the bill was adopted by the Government and managed through the parliamentary process by Courts Minister Andrew Little.
The bill reforms the law of contempt in New Zealand courts and seeks to make the law of contempt more accessible, understandable and reflective of the digital age.
Part 1 – Preliminary provisions – clause 3 describes the purposes of the bill and clause (3)(3)(a) abolishes the common law contempts of court. Clause 3(2)(d) of the bill provides that, except in unusual circumstances, court proceedings (except for Family and Youth Court proceedings) will be open to the public and news media. Clause 3(2)(e) specifies that the courts can enforce compliance with court orders.
Part 2 – Provisions to promote and facilitate administrate of justice – clause 14 prohibits the publication of material that interferes with the administration of justice in criminal cases.
Subpart 3 clause 16 – Dealing with disruptive behaviour, allows judicial officers to have people excluded from the court (clause 16(1)(a)) or taken into custody for the day (clause 16(1)(b)) if they behave in a disruptive way in a courtroom.
Subpart 4 – Provisions relating to juries- clause 19 creates new offences prohibiting jurors from investigating or researching information relevant to a case while a trial is ongoing and from disclosing their deliberations (clause 20).
In a statement released after passage of the bill, Mr Little says the new legislation clarifies that jurors must not turn to the internet to look things up or research information relevant to the trial before them. Fair trial rights mean that jurors must only consider the evidence they have heard in the court room.
“Even though the Bill includes new rules to fine jurors who seek out their own information, the Government’s focus is on better education and instructions for jurors,” he says.
Subpart 5 – Enforcement of certain court orders -clause 22(4)(ii)(A) provides that a person could be fined up to $25,000 or go to prison for up to 6 months for failing to comply with certain court orders.
Clause 24A makes it an offence to publish a false statement about a Judge or court. Clause 25 provides for take-down orders where the court is satisfied that there is a real risk that an allegation could undermine public confidence in the independence, impartiality, or authority of a court.
The bill commences on the earlier of a date appointed by the Governor-General by Order in Council; and the date that is 1 year after the date on which the Act receives the Royal assent.