Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Name suppression defended

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The public debate on name suppression is far from over.
The public debate on name suppression is far from over.

A Rotorua lawyer says high-profile offenders often deserve name suppression because they have more to lose than "Joe Average", but the chairman of Rotorua Sensible Sentencing Trust disagrees.

Ministry of Justice figures obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post reveal Rotorua District Court has granted permanent name suppression 29 times since 2011, and the Rotorua High Court twice.

Permanent name suppression forbids publication of any identifying details of a person accused, convicted or acquitted of a crime - usually because it would harm the person, their family, or a victim. A law change in 2011 made it more difficult for name suppression to be granted, increasing the threshold of harm caused by identification from "undue hardship" to "extreme hardship".

Rotorua lawyer Rob Vigor-Brown said he believed this law change went "too far", and was improperly impacted by the public's desire to be entertained.

"It's an inappropriate response to public pressure," Mr Vigor-Brown said. "I totally agree with open justice, but the media's intrusion into the courts has been such that justice has become entertainment."

The national figures for permanent name suppression had halved since 2011, largely due to two courts - New Plymouth and Hawera, which granted 42.5 per cent of the 2011 total - reducing their output. Since 2012, permanent suppression orders have dropped 22 per cent nationwide, from 407 to 317.

A number of prominent New Zealand sportspeople and celebrities had received name suppression in recent years, sparking public debate about the decisions.

Mr Vigor-Brown said each case for suppression should be considered on its facts, but suppression for high-profile people was often warranted.

"Often they deserve it more than Joe Average because their [career achievements] have been higher, and so because of their hard work they have more to lose," he said. "It's not liberal, it's deserved."

But Sensible Sentencing Trust Rotorua chairman Peter Bentley said the only people who should be able to get name suppression were those whose family would suffer if they were exposed.

"That's what suppression is for, to protect family, in every other case no, they should not get suppression. It doesn't matter how high profile they are, everybody has to be accountable. If the person is an All Black or a judge or a lawyer or a person who drives a tractor, they all need to be held accountable and everyone needs to know what kind of person they are."

Senior lawyer Russell Fairbrother, QC, said the impact publication would have on some celebrities and sportspeople was greater than the general population.

"I think All Blacks are in a special category. The implications on publication for them is intuitively extreme, and could be weighed against the seriousness of the allegations," he said. "It's part of a mix of what's extreme hardship.

"My experience is, you have to show immediate extreme hardship, such as the loss of an opportunity that really can't be repeated again. That applies whether you're unemployed, an All Black, or a lawyer. But the chances of these extreme opportunities are probably lesser for the more specialised groups than it is for the general population." He said suppression was used correctly, and was not an attempt to hide what was going on in court.

"The whole basis of name suppression is not to deny open justice, it's to say this is a particularly special case where the harm of publishing the name will outdo the harm this person has caused by the crime they've committed. It's a balancing exercise." -

- Additional reporting Kyra Dawson

- Rotorua Daily Post

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