Bloggers warned about law in Capill case

Internet bloggers are being warned about breaking the law in high profile criminal cases such as the sex charges faced by Graham Capill.

The Capill case has previously been affected, with a New Zealand blogger identifying him days before his name suppression was lifted.

The new sexual assault charges the former Christian Heritage party leader is facing are now provoking a storm of opinion on the internet, some of which pushes legal boundaries.

Media law expert Professor John Burrows said any comment stating an accused person is guilty breaks the law. He said this would almost certainly be contempt of court.

He said the question is whether what is said could prejudice a fair trial, which could be the case if strong comment is made.

Professor Burrows said he has seen plenty of comments on blogs which breach the law, and added that authors could face legal action if they are traced.

Traditional news sites on the internet are usually staffed by professional journalists who have been trained in media law. Weblogs, however, are like personal diaries and carry the often unedited views of members of the public who may not know the laws of libel or contempt of court.

David Farrar, author of Kiwiblog, has posted on the topic of Graham Capill and agrees this is something bloggers must be careful about.

But he said the law is far from clear as to what liability those operating blogs may have for defamatory comments posted by readers.

He insists breaking defamation and name suppression laws are the exception rather than the rule.

Capill, who has already pleaded guilty to a representative charge of indecently assaulting a female under 12, appeared in Christchurch District Court last week on further charges including rape.

- NEWSTALK ZB, HERALD STAFF 

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