Editorial: Get tough on court secrecy

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Open justice is supposed to be a cornerstone of our court system - but I sometimes wonder about that.

Judges give accused criminals name suppression too often and recent cases involving high-profile people only reinforce my view.

One of these cases is Stephen Bachop, who was yesterday revealed to be the former All Black before the courts for allegedly assaulting his partner after New Zealand's Rugby World Cup win.

He appeared in court last month and sought secrecy so he and his partner could tell family and their employers. But if this was the case, suppression should only have lasted a couple of days.

Interestingly, in court yesterday, his lawyer did not seek continued suppression because of "the potential of any negative impact on other former All Blacks".

Quite right too. It is hugely unfair on all former All Blacks of a similar age.

Another former All Black, aged in his 40s, has pleaded guilty to child assault and also has suppression.

This is reportedly because of his standing in sports circles and community, and to protect the complainant's identity - something that has drawn fire from legal experts, who say Parliament wants to tighten suppression laws.

Despite this, the man could get a discharge without conviction when sentenced in February and apply for a permanent court order banning publication of his name.

Again, his case is unfair on other former All Blacks in their 40s.

Sport and celebrity should never be a reason for name suppression.

People who have enjoyed life in the spotlight and earned good money because of it have an extra responsibility as role models and good citizens. But they should also be treated like anyone else in the eyes of the law.

Thankfully, the law is changing.

The Criminal Procedure Bill, passed in October, makes it clear that "wealth, reputation or public awareness" should not be suppression factors.

This new law comes into force in March next year.

I believe suppression should only be granted to protect certain victims, such as sex victims and in some cases young people, and if naming a person could interfere with any court case.

In the Tauranga courts, the man charged over this week's suspicious death in the Avenues has suppression so he can tell family, but the judge has rightly warned him this will run out tomorrow unless there are special police reasons.

The suppression argument is relevant in the Rena case.

The identities of the Rena captain and officer remain secret and I have editorialised before that I think this is wrong.

These men are due back in court on December 21 and they should be named.

The Rena case is of major public interest and importance, given the cost and scale of the disaster and what it has meant to local people and the environment.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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