Airport security processes and name suppression laws are under scrutiny after an Auckland couple managed to escape lockdown and fly to their holiday home in Wanaka, and have their names kept a secret.
The man and woman used essential service documentation to drive through an Auckland southern boundary checkpoint operated by police on Thursday, September 9, during alert level 4 restrictions.
They then flew from Hamilton Airport to Queenstown via Wellington. In Queenstown they hired a car and drove to a home in Wanaka, sparking outrage from locals and Aucklanders.
Their activity was reported online and police confronted them at the property, telling them to return to their residence.
The couple were granted interim name suppression last night, despite no charges yet being laid by police. The move is seen as unusual - and one lawyer told the Herald they don't expect the suppression to be made permanent.
Yesterday police said they were considering laying charges against the couple under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and that the Ministry of Health has been notified.
Police said there was no update today on whether or not charges have been laid.
Being granted name suppression before facing a court summons is "rare but not unique", Wellington barrister Graeme Edgeler told the Herald.
"I would be very surprised if they got permanent name suppression.
"They may get name suppression granted again for a few weeks ... particularly if they want to appeal a name suppression order or something like that, but I would be surprised if name suppression lasted longer than necessary for the courts to sort it out."
He said he can see "why they might want to give it a go", given the high level of public discourse over the couple's breach of alert level 4 restrictions and backlash on social media.
If police do proceed with charges, the pair would be summoned to court for their first appearance. This is usually when name suppression is discussed.
Edgeler said another time he can recall name suppression being granted before a person's first court appearance was during the New Zealand First donations scandal, in which two defendants in the Serious Fraud Office case were granted interim name suppression up until a trial date.
"It's unusual. The way the Criminal Procedure Act is written, it assumes you're going to have arguments about name suppression when you first come before a court.
"I can see why a judge would think, we need an interim suppression now, because if I don't have one, they won't even get a chance to argue for name suppression like any other criminal defendant."
But he said the high publicity over the couple's actions is more reason for them to pursue name suppression.
"There have been dozens of people who have gone to court over these sorts of breaches, and I'm not sure any of their names were published.
"I can see why people would be concerned. Most people don't get name suppression for this kind of thing but counter to that, most people don't need it."
Hamilton Airport, used by the Auckland couple to fly to Queenstown, said it's only privy to limited information about travellers.
"The airport company is not responsible for the passengers flying legally or illegally," it said in a statement to the Herald.
"We are following all the necessary protocols in the terminal as advised by the [Ministry of Transport] under alert level 2.5. We are not privy to any passenger information, that level of detail resides with the airlines."
The Aviation Security Service checks passengers at all major airports such as Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.
From the first day the country was plunged into lockdown, the service volunteered to assist the all-of-Government Covid-19 response by providing a passenger-checking service.
Security officers check for valid travel documents such as producing a boarding pass or travel itinerary.
"Once ourselves, other agencies and the airport companies were made aware that some passengers weren't following the rules, additional checks were put in place at Auckland Airport to qualify a passenger's eligibility to travel. These came into effect on Tuesday morning, August 31," the service said.
The step-by-step process being applied now is:
• When a passenger approaches the airport doors the Aviation Security Officer (ASO) asks them for their boarding pass;
• If that is produced the ASO then asks them about the purpose of their travel and to see their eligibility document;
• If it meets the requirements for travel they will then be allowed to enter the airport;
• If they don't meet the requirements they will be told not to enter;
• If they object the police are called;
• If police aren't available, then the matter is handed over to the Airport Company, and they are banned from the terminal.