Let’s face it.
Most of us prick up our ears if we hear that someone appearing in court has been given name suppression.
It’s human nature to be curious, and no one likes the feeling of not knowing what’s going on.
The court pages in newspapers are well read.
In years gone by, people mingled at the gallows, now they just read the internet.
New Zealand has a long-established principle of open justice in the legal system.
It’s recognised the general public is entitled to know the identity of those who are charged with a crime and the media can report on what happens in court.
There are exceptions, though, and many valid reasons why name suppression should be considered.
The rules governing name suppression are in the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.
Some of the reasons the courts can suppress the identity of the defendant are if publication is likely to:
● Cause extreme hardship to the defendant or a person connected with the defendant;
● Cause suspicion on another person that may cause undue hardship;
● Cause undue hardship to any victim of the offence;
● Create a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial;
● Endanger the safety of any person.
Name suppression is not just the preserve of the rich and famous.
The fact a defendant is well known does not, on its own, mean publication of his or her name will result in extreme hardship.
There is no easy road to name suppression for anyone — celebrities or otherwise.
The vast majority of people who appear in court don’t get name suppression.
In the Google era, their names are public knowledge forever.
The test of “extreme hardship” is set high.
It must be something beyond the usual hardship and embarrassment of having your name appear in the media after a court appearance.
A common argument in support of name suppression is that publication would create a significant and unjustified social or economic disadvantage to an offender’s family, particularly children and other vulnerable family members.
Another is that a person’s mental health could be significantly affected by publication.
If a judge has evidence someone is receiving treatment for a serious mental health diagnosis, and their doctor believes publication of their name would completely undermine
their rehabilitation, then suppression can (and in my opinion should) be granted.
The right to a fair trial is another reason for name suppression.
This is a fundamental principle of our legal system.
Jurors need to come to a trial with an open mind, and that could be more difficult if there has been wide publicity about a defendant.
A name suppression order stops the media publishing a range of background information that could influence a jury.
Name suppression is regularly granted to protect the identity of victims.
In the case of certain types of sexual offending, name suppression of the offender will be automatic in order to protect the victim.
It’s important to remember name suppression orders apply to everyone, not just the media.
Anyone found holding forth at the pub about a person whose name is suppressed can be charged with breaching a suppression order.
When people comment that name suppression is too easy, I like to remind them of the people who assume that someone accused of a crime is guilty of a crime.
Imagine having your name splashed through the papers, only to be found innocent, yet forever defined by the crime you didnt commit?
Permanent name suppression when charges are thrown out has merit.
Perhaps we could suppress everything until there was a verdict?
Children who have the anxiety associated with a parent in the courtroom should also not have the stigma that comes with publication of the parents’ name.
Open justice has its merits but in my view, name suppression should be granted more often to protect tamariki.
Tanya Surrey is a Mactodd senior solicitor and Queenstown duty lawyer