Fifty-seven accused criminals in Northland are allowed to keep their court appearances from the past five years hidden forever - but the numbers of successful suppression requests are falling.

Ministry of Justice figures obtained by the Northern Advocate show Kaikohe District Court topped the Northland courts for secrecy, with 29 people granted permanent name suppression in the past five years, and Whangarei granted 16.

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". Only three people were granted permanent suppression last year.

Whangarei-based lawyer Stuart Henderson said the difference between undue to extreme hardship was a "major jump".


"Generally speaking, there is supposed to be a marked difference and it's supposed to make it much harder," Mr Henderson said.

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 the number of high-profile celebrities or sportspeople who received name suppression.

Lawyer Russell Fairbrother QC said the impact publication would have on accused celebrities and sportspeople was greater than the larger population, and suppression 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."

Mr Henderson said New Zealand's domestic violence statistics were "appalling", and a suppression order for some crimes, regardless of status, could be challenged on the message it sends to wider society.

"Exposure is a major deterrent for committing domestic violence. If [suppression is] contributing to our inability to deal with our domestic violence statistics, then maybe the effect on the individual shouldn't be considered," he said.

Nationwide, permanent suppression cases have fallen dramatically since 2011, largely due to two outlying 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.