Murder accused, name suppression and international media

The Grace Millane case has raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of name suppression (non-publication orders) when it only applies to New Zealand media. It has been simple online to find out the name of the person accused of the English tourist’s murder, even without trying.

To clarify the situation – at the first court appearance on Monday the accused person’s lawyer asked for name suppression based on fair trial rights, this was declined by the judge, but the lawyer immediately appealed as he is legally able to do. Under current law this gives the accused 20 days automatic suppression, and the judge will make another decision after arguments for and against have been made.

The police have made it clear what the current situation is:

It would be stupid (as well as illegal) to name the accused, or to aid identification of him in any way. Technically, saying ‘you can find it with Google’ could be deemed an aid to finding out, but it is so obvious a way of discovery that it would be ridiculous to take action.

Lawyer Graeme Edgeler tried to do something practical regarding the law: Name suppression appeals

I have long thought that the 20 working days allowed to appeal a refusal to make a suppression order is too long, when the law requires the court appealed from to make an interim suppression order for that period.

The law did not used to require this. There was no automatic right for interim suppression, which used to be a matter of discretion. A defence lawyer could tell a judge of the intention to appeal, and ask for interim suppression.

The judge might ask: will two days (a week/whatever) be enough to appeal? The lawyer might respond: I’ve a trial tomorrow and Thursday, I’d appreciate if I could have until Friday. And the judge could agree. It didn’t always work. But it also didn’t meant an automatic 20 days.

The new law treats an appeal from a refusal to make a suppression order the same as any other appeal – allowing 20 working days to file the notice of appeal, and automatically extending an interim suppression order.

Usually, delaying filing an appeal will be bad for a defendant (if you wait 20 days to appeal a refusal of bail, that means you’ve spent 4 weeks extra in prison), but this is one time where it doesn’t.

It also unreasonably affects the public and news media who wish to report on matters of public importance, and which a judge has ruled it is unreasonable to prohibit them from doing so. In light of this 20 working days is excessive.

So I have drafted a bill, the Criminal Procedure (Interim Suppression Pending Appeal) Amendment Bill, which would reduce the 20 working days allowed to appeal a refusal to make a suppression order to 5 working days.

If anyone knows an MP whom they think would like to propose it as a member’s bill, feel free to direct them to it, over at the Progressive Bills Wiki.

However the Prime Minister has used Labourese for ‘not interested in addressing this’ by saying “At this time, it’s not part of our agenda.”

NZ Herald:  Name suppression laws not about to change

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has no plans to change name suppression laws, even though international media have named the man accused of murdering Grace Millane.

This morning Justice Minister Andrew Little criticised British media for naming the accused, who has interim name suppression.

Little said it was potentially jeopardising a fair trial, which could heap more misery on the grieving Millane family.

I think that there is potential for ‘jeopardising a fair trial’ it is unlikely – I think that trials found to have been unfairly  jeopardised are rare (I think Edgeler has said that).

Ardern said she agreed with Little and that name suppression should be adhered to.

Asked if name suppression laws were out of date with global connectivity, Ardern said: “There’s no doubt the environment has changed.”

But the Government was not looking at doing any work on name suppression laws, she said.

“At this time, it’s not part of our agenda.”

So Ardern doesn’t want to fix something that is clearly not working.

If it is something obviously needing modernising because it has become a farce I would have hoped the Government would put it on their agenda.

This is more evidence that the current Ardern led Government can be quite conservative at times, despite claims by Ardern and others that they are ‘progressive’.

Leave a comment


  1. Duker

     /  12th December 2018

    How does knowing a persons name jeopardise a fair trial ? If they were a notorious criminal , maybe, but thats rare as.
    Lawyers will often say anything to delay a case , change judges, have evidence ruled inadmissible etc and fighting having a name released is just another abuse of process

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  12th December 2018

      @Duker, I had the same reaction. Seems complete rubbish to me. But it was politician Little, not a lawyer, making the claim

  2. Missy

     /  12th December 2018

    That the NZ Government is not interested in looking at name suppression laws makes me think that for them this is in the ‘too hard basket’. It is too hard so they will ignore it and hope asking nicely will stop overseas media from naming the guy – hint, it won’t.

    I wonder if Andrew Little is aware that Grace Millane’s family requested the courts turn down the application for name suppression and name him, so trying to use the family in order to get the emotional argument for British media to stop publishing details is cynical.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  12th December 2018

      Yes, they may wrongly assume that these ghouls will respect the law. Silly them. No doubt all the details will be published for other ghouls to drool over.

  3. Ray

     /  12th December 2018

    It worth remembering that Judge in this case turned down name suppression and it was the defendant’s Lawyer (someone paid to lie for him) immediately appealed that, which leads to the twenty day delay.
    It is also worth remembering that the USA, which is grossly over lawyered, does not have name suppression and manages ok.

    Time do have a hard look at this whole thing.

    For justice to be done it must be done in the public eye.
    Defendants are innocent till proved guilty by the Court.
    Victims especially when youth is involved have some protection.
    It is so easy in today’s age to search out just about anybody’s details if you know their name and name suppression can’t apply out side a countries borders.

  4. David

     /  12th December 2018

    Little is a tool, sorry he is just a complete f…wit.
    I dont get why releasing someone’s name stops them getting a fair trial. NZ is a total outlier with name suppression and its left like it is just in case one of the elite finds themselves in some bother. Suits the privileged.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  12th December 2018

      Anyone can ask for it. The idea is that someone is innocent until proved guilty, and I see no reason for knowing the name when I am unlikely to be any the wiser. The Hamilton man who was accused of rape and acquitted had to live with his name and face being broadcast.

      I also don’t see why victims like Blessie Gotingco need have the intimate details of what happened to them broadcast for all to hear; the ultimate invasion of privacy when the person cannot do anything about it. These are real people, not actors in court dramas. How must families feel, knowing that the whole country will hear the salacious details of a rape and murder as if it was a film, not something that happened to a real person ? Meanwhile the camera lingers on the accused as if they were an actor on the screen….it’s disgusting. Treat the dead with some respect.

  5. David

     /  12th December 2018

    Its absurd when you search the name is in the headline but when you click on the link it stops you going to the article.

    • David Barnes

       /  12th December 2018

      What is even more nonsensical is that Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) will let you view the webpage in its entirety. Access is only denied if you click through from the AMP link.

      I imagine that a VPN would allow access, although I haven’t checked.


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