A proposal to set up a database of names that courts have kept secret has received cautious backing from lawyers, but the Law Society warns it could come with risks.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says he's asked officials to explore setting up a registry of court-issued suppression orders, after Google last year named the man accused of killing British backpacker Grace Millane.

The tech giant in December put the Auckland man's name into an email to Kiwi clients despite a ruling he could not be publicly identified and last week suspended its trending emails service in New Zealand.

Currently media have to usually be in court to hear a suppression order and there's no database to check what names are legally suppressed. Google says it didn't find out until four days after the fact.


But those who breach suppressions are still liable, regardless of whether they're aware of the orders.

The Law Society's Chris Macklin, a senior Crown prosecutor, said if a database could help with compliance of name suppressions, it seemed worth considering.

"If a central register of orders makes compliance with those orders more likely, that's a positive step," he said.

"But we'd need to see the details … If a press pass came with a password to this giant and extremely interesting database that would definitely come with some risks. It would need to be something that's very carefully considered."

Wellington barrister Graeme Edgeler says while New Zealand's court system needed to make information more accessible, a full register of suppressed names came with dangers.

"One can see why it's probably never happened. The reason people get name suppression is so that people don't find out who they are," he said.

"If you create a database of all the names of everyone who is suppressed, even if it's only journalists or Google who can look up the names, it would, in part, get rid of a lot of the practical effects of name suppression."

Edgeler said despite some high-profile cases getting attention, the country's suppression laws largely worked.

"Name suppression works most of the time because no one actually knows," he said.
"If there register, I could see there being some sort of concern about how it would be used."


Little floated the idea this week while discussing Google's breach.

"I think there is a case you know, even for New Zealand media as well, there ought to be a place you can easily go to find out whether in relation to a particular case, however you describe it, there are suppression orders that apply in relation to it," Little told TVNZ.

"I am keen to explore that a little further."

In the apology letter last week, Google's New Zealand government affairs manager, Ross Young, said fewer than 200 New Zealand subscribers had received the email with the accused's name, and that Google immediately acted to take the person's name out of future Trends Alert emails.

He said the company provided law enforcement agencies with confidential forms to inform it about suppression orders, but this did not happen in the Millane case until four days after the order was handed down.