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’.