A High Court judge has ordered continued interim name suppression for a police recruit facing trial accused of strangling a prostitute unconscious and raping her.
The suspended recruit, aged 32, was sent for trial on charges of sexual violation by rape and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after a depositions hearing in Christchurch District Court this month.
Evidence was given that the recruit had been linked to the 2003 crime after his fingerprints were taken at the New Zealand Police College at Porirua, north of Wellington, last year.
Fingerprints allegedly matching the accused had been left at the prostitute's flat after her attacker had helped her in through a window when she found she had been locked out. They had been logged on a police national database as being from the scene of an unsolved crime.
At the end of the depositions hearing, Judge Michael Green said he saw no reason to continue to keep the man's details secret from the public. In his view there was a "strong likelihood" the man would be convicted.
But he continued interim suppression after the man's lawyer, James Rapley, indicated he would file an appeal in the High Court.
In the High Court at Christchurch today, Justice Graham Panckhurst said Judge Green's "relatively trenchant" comment was unfortunate and should have been suppressed.
While it was common for judges to express views on the strength of cases before them in bail applications, they were never reported in the media.
Justice Panckhurst said in the police recruit's case, Judge Green's comments were reported on the front page of a major newspaper, The Press, the day after the depositions hearing. They were also reported in the Herald.
"It might be said that the horse has bolted, in that publicity has already occurred. However, on reflection it seems to me the fair trial risk will be heightened... if the appellant's name is added to the mix," he said.
There was a "real risk" a jury could be influenced by the "unfortunate publicity" attached to the judge's remark.
Seeking continued suppression, Mr Rapley said despite the recruit's fingerprints allegedly being found at the prostitute's flat, identification was still in dispute.
The recruit had admitted to police he engaged the prostitute for sex on March 15 2003 but the woman had four clients that night and Mr Rapley said the recruit denied being the one who strangled and raped her.
Mr Rapley said Judge Green had heard some but not all of the evidence during depositions, and there had been no opportunity to cross-examine the prostitute because her deposition had been handed up to the judge and not read in court.
Prosecutor Kathryn Dalziel told Justice Panckhurst the Crown took a neutral stance on the question of continued name suppression.
She noted the Law Commission's opinion that juries were able to dissociate themselves from any pre-trial publicity.
The recruit has been remanded on continued bail for a pre-trial hearing on July 7.