Stars named and shamed under proposal

By Derek Cheng

Justice Minister Simon Power. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Simon Power. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Entertainers, All Blacks and other celebrities will no longer be able to rely on their fame to protect them from being named and shamed, under proposed changes to name suppression rules.

But the Law Society is criticising the move as populist. It says there are no double standards in the current system, and the Government wants a celebrity clause despite no such suggestion from the Law Commission.

Justice Minister Simon Power said the proposed changes - approved by the Cabinet - will spell out strict criteria for when to grant name suppression, including:

* when there was a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial;

* when publication would endanger a person's safety;

* when publication would cast suspicion on other people that may result in undue hardship;

* to prevent extreme hardship to the accused or people connected to the accused.

Fame by itself would not prove "extreme hardship".

"The legislation will make it clear that the wealth, reputation or public awareness factors in and of themselves will not be enough to gain name suppression," Mr Power said.

He fired a shot at celebrities who had admitted offences but been granted permanent name suppression, such as the entertainer who pushed a 16-year-old girl's face into his genitals.

"What should have been in the mind of the individual is: 'I'm well-known, I have a reputation to protect, I should not commit this offence."'

But Law Society president Jonathan Temm said untrue and unproven allegations could be extremely damaging to one's career, family, or reputation.

"It's not about fame or celebrity. It's about how much people have to lose."

He said, for example, that former TVNZ sportsreader Tony Veitch, who admitted kicking his former partner in the back, could have had a case for pre-conviction name suppression.

"Tony was destroyed in the media way before he had a fair trial or before allegations were established. Tony had more to lose than the Tokoroa truck driver who nobody knows."

The Government also wants to broaden the rules of automatic name suppression to include all child victims and witnesses under 18, even though the Law Commission said this would curb the principles of open justice.

"Children have a special vulnerability that should be protected by law," Mr Power said.

The Media Freedom Committee, which represents the country's major newspapers, television and radio networks and magazines, said this move needed careful thought.

"This could create a whole class of victim whose story can never be told to the public. On the face of it, a teenager whose life may be ruined by a crash caused by a drunk driver would never be known to the public," said committee chair Tim Murphy, who is also editor of the New Zealand Herald.

"The lessons for society from their experiences would be much diminished by the very anonymity of the victim."

The Government also wants to double the maximum term for individuals who breach suppression orders to six months' prison, and increase the maximum fine for an organisation from $5000 to $100,000.

It will also introduce a new offence to allow internet service providers and bloggers to be prosecuted for breaching suppression orders.

It will introduce legislation by the end of the year.

OPEN AND SHUT CASES

Name suppression granted, then lifted:

2010: Former Act MP David Garrett, who had used a dead baby's identity to obtain a false passport.

2007: All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu, assaulted his wife, discharged without conviction.

2005: Political leader Graham Capill, who indecently assaulted a girl under 12.

Names still suppressed:

Feb, 2010: Comedian defending a charge of unlawful sexual connection with a child under 12.

2009: Entertainer who admitted forcing a 16-year-old's face into his genitals.

2009: An Olympian accused of sex and violence offences that include raping his wife.

2005: All Black who pleaded guilty to assaulting his pregnant partner.

- NZ Herald