An Auckland couple who broke the blockade to go to Wānaka have highlighted the deletion of names. RNZ can now reveal surprising statistics on suppression.
William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley, now known as ‘The Wānaka Couple’, only had the name suppression for a brief time, before letting it pass and apologizing for violating Auckland’s Covid-19 blockade and heading south. But it was enough to make name suppression a topic of conversation.
Now, RNZ may reveal that Pākehā are granted name suppression three times more than Maori, despite Maori being charged and convicted of more crimes.
Last year, Maori were charged with 41 percent of crimes, but only accounted for 18 percent of the provisional and final name suppression granted, an RNZ analysis shows.
Pākehā was charged with 36 percent of the crimes, but accounted for 68 percent of the provisional and final name removal, figures from the Ministry of Justice show.
These figures do not include the automatic suppression of the name given to protect the identity of the victims.
Auckland criminal lawyer Fletcher Pilditch said it appeared to be easier for certain types of people to convince a judge that being publicly identified would cause them extreme hardship.
“You have to establish a hardship beyond the hardship normally associated with being identified as a person facing criminal charges in court. There are no hard and fast rules about what extreme hardship would look like, but often the reasons relate to the the person’s ability to continue in some form of employment or professional capacity, “he said.
“Tragically, many Maori offenders who appear in court come from a background of hardship, challenge and deprivation. I don’t see that provoking the kind of consideration that courts normally consider when considering extreme hardship.”
Pilditch has represented many Maori clients and wondered if the courts were culturally competent enough to understand the importance of a Maori defendant’s reputation within their whānau or wider whānau network.
“I don’t know if the [extreme hardship] A test is being applied to take into account questions of mana and how his own whānau or hapū will respond to these accusations, and his feelings that this is known within the larger group.
“If your offense is a product of coming from that impoverished background and having all those challenges in life, then it is unlikely that you are a person who also has the kind of reputation and position that needs to be protected with name suppression.”
The Ministry of Justice does not collect data on failed name removal requests, so it is impossible to know whether Maori are requesting at the same level as other ethnicities and are being rejected or requesting less.
Professor Ursula Cheer, dean of law at the University of Canterbury, said the numbers should be explored.
“I think there is a good place for some good criminal justice investigators to do more work in this area.”
It was possible that the statistics indicated that there was a bias at play, he said.
“In theory, of course, they shouldn’t be biased, but as long as a judge has the ability to exercise discretion, it is debatable. [there can be bias]. “
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann doubted that the disparity reflected a bias from the judges, but did not rule it out.
“Without questioning them up to the tenth grade, which I have no statistical or mathematical capacity to do, I have to, as a judicial leader, proceed on the basis that it is possible that our judges, as well as the general population, have, unconscious bias.
“We have educational programs that are geared towards decision-making and run the risk of unconscious biases. We also educate for this by teaching people about poverty and the impacts of poverty … so as much as possible , we try to correct any type of unconscious prejudice that the judges have. “
She accepted that broader social factors could not be ignored and may be contributing to the disparity.
“The person walks into the courtroom with all kinds of handicaps. He can carry previous convictions, he may not be in a job, he may not have a family relationship, all the kinds of things that go into name suppression. “.
Quentin Duff, a Maori lawyer from Auckland, trusted the integrity of the judges and their decision-making.
He agreed with Winkelmann that bias or prejudice are probably not important factors in the disparity.
“My experience with the judges who sit there is that they are color blind and apply interim suppression in the interests of justice,” he said.
“The courts apply that standard of extreme hardship quite harshly. It’s not an easy threshold for anyone to meet, frankly.”
Cheer said it was also possible that the statistics reflected inequalities in access to quality legal representation.
“It takes a really strong, tenacious attorney to keep arguing about suppression. Suppressions are supposed to be granted on an exceptional basis, they are not meant to be granted easily. So you have to present strong cases to get them.
“Having access to a good lawyer and being able to pay a good lawyer to do it for you is obviously an advantage. Therefore, the ability of a defendant to get a good lawyer and pay that good lawyer is relevant and may affect whether you get a successful order or not. “
Pakehā are more likely to be able to afford a private lawyer because, on average, they earn more income than Maori. To 2018 study Regarding income disparities found across all ages, Maori received a much lower average income than the general population. Maori ages 40 to 60 earned $ 10,000 less a year than their non-Maori counterparts.
The report said the disparity existed in part because a third of the working-age Maori population have no qualifications and more than half have lower-skilled jobs.
The name suppression rules were tightened in 2011 following public outrage that had been bestowed on a number of well-known figures and celebrities.
Pitcher said far fewer people had been granted name suppression since then, but the demographics of the selected applicants remained unchanged.
“So the test was raised to extreme difficulty so that it was really hard to get name suppression, but when you look at the cases, it’s still sportsmen, celebrities, people with positions. It seems to be the same cohort of people who get name suppression. , although there are fewer of them. “
– Data analysis by Farah Hancock
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