Secrecy cases steady despite new law

By Jordan Bond -
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Extreme hardship condition shows little local impact

Almost 60 criminally accused people in Wairarapa are allowed to keep their court appearances from the past five years secret forever.

Ministry of Justice figures revealed to the Wairarapa Times-Age show Masterton District Court granted permanent name suppression 57 times in the past five years, including 11 last year.

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 to gain name suppression, increasing the threshold of harm caused by identification from "undue hardship" to "extreme hardship".

Lawyer Michael Bott said it is "significantly harder to get name suppression" since the law change came into effect in March 2012.

"Society has judged that name suppression should be harder to get," he said.

Cases of successful permanent name suppression had fluctuated over the past five years, and showed no distinct trend.

However, in relation to the number of people prosecuted in Masterton District Court, the rate of permanent suppression orders granted had increased.

Last year, 1.56 per cent of people prosecuted in court received permanent name suppression - the highest of any of the past five years, and almost four times the national average.

In April, Justice Minister Amy Adams said New Zealanders had made it clear they thought too many people were getting permanent name suppression - possibly in relation to public concern about a number of high-profile celebrities or sportsmen who received name suppression.

Mr Bott said the case for hardship was relative to the individual, and there were no "hard black-and-white answers" on granting suppression.

"For example, say a celebrity has name suppression. It's not the fact they're a celebrity or their position in society at all, but basically the impact [publication would have]. It's not a matter of the fact of celebrity itself, you have to demonstrate actual hardship."

Lawyer Russell Fairbrother, QC, said the impact publication would have on some celebrities and sportspeople was greater than the larger population, and was generally warranted.

"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 for the general population."

Nationwide, permanent suppression cases have fallen dramatically 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.

Permanent name suppression


2011 - 14
2012 - 11
2013 - 12
2014 - 9
2015 - 11

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