Dom Post et al on name suppression

January 13th, 2010 at 10:12 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial today is on blogs and name suppression. Extracts:

As the internet has transformed the world, the blogosphere within has become pervasive. Anyone with a computer can either read the opinions of people who craft blogs – sometimes, merely illiterate streams of consciousness – or pen one themselves.

That some who cannot spell, let alone write, think that the world is gagging to know their business is as presumptuous as tweeters who think everyone is interested in their self-absorbed lives. Be that as it may.

Some blogs demand attention, in this country those by, for example, David Farrar, Russell Brown and Cameron Slater.

I’m not sure if that means we are excluded from the description of merely being illiterate streams of consciousness!

Attention Slater has now got.

Last month, police charged him with breaching name suppression orders when, on his WhaleOil blog, he posted pictorial clues identifying the accused in two high-profile sexual offence cases. This week, he revealed by way of binary code the identity of a former national figure accused of a sexual attack on a 13-year-old girl.

Nelson police, who laid the latest charges, call Slater’s actions irresponsible, because they fear they might lead to public identification of the victim, whom the suppression order was intended to protect.

Slater is on a mission. He has said, outside the courtroom, that he believes everyone should be equal before the law, that celebrities and the wealthy have their identities suppressed more often and more easily than do ordinary Kiwis, and that the law needs changing.

The Dominion Post agrees. But there are better ways to lobby for a more open court system than by putting at risk the future of a teenage girl.

I agree, but point out a newspaper had already effectively done the same thing.

At the same time, Slater has forced police, perhaps the solicitor-general, possibly Justice Minister Simon Power, Courts Minister Georgina te Heu Heu, and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, and maybe, later, the judiciary, to confront the fact that the Criminal Justice Act, which gives judges the power to suppress certain information relating to cases before them, needs revision.

Which I believe is likely, on the basis of the Law Commission report and the comments at the time from Simon Power.

In the meantime, it is reassuring to see the Crown Law Office has decided that it can no longer apply the law relating to suppression unequally. At times of egregious breach, the solicitor-general has been keen to go after those in the mainstream media who have broken suppression orders or otherwise committed contempt of court.

For the most part, however, inhabitants of the blogosphere have been merely warned about their cavalier disregard of suppressed information or other transgressions, notably during Clayton Weatherston’s trial for murder.

Either everyone who breaches this law is prosecuted, or no-one is. And were the latter to become the reality, those sections of the Criminal Justice Act pertaining to suppression orders need to be repealed.

I find it quite funny that yesterday we had bloggers such as myself saying that the media are getting away with transgressions, while today the media are saying the bloggers are getting away!

An excellent summary of the whole issue has been done by Steven Price. I won’t do extracts because people should read the whole thing.

Law Professor Andrew Geddis has done a second post on the issue.

Also a number of posts from media lecturer Martin Hirst at Ethical Martini.

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