Saturday, December 4

When name blanking plays favorites


04/12/19 A well-known New Zealand athlete was in Manukau court facing drug charges.  He and his co-defendants have their names deleted as of the photo date.  DO NOT HOLD THE NAME - DELETED

‘Known New Zealand Sportsman’ – This is what the deletion of names looks like.
Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

When a wealthy and connected couple from Auckland broke covid rules to go on vacation to Wanaka, the public’s response was a cry of blood. An attempt to keep their names secret, saying they had received death threats, only added to the intense search to find out who they were.

By the time William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley went public, every media organization in the country made sure to publish their names, front and center. Contempt piled up.

The saga has sparked a look at our name suppression laws, and today on The Detail, Emile Donovan talks to public law expert Graeme Edgeler about why we have them; who gets them; and the fuel they spill on the public interest.

Name suppression is legal (Juvenile Court and sexual assault victims, for example, have automatic name suppression) or discretionary: a judge orders that certain reports, facts, or identities of individuals be kept secret.

This used to be at the discretion of the judge, but in 2011 the Criminal Procedure Law introduced parameters to guide the judiciary. Now, the publication of the name of a defendant would have to cause “extreme difficulties” before the deletion of the name is granted.

If you are famous, ‘extreme hardship’ could be justified if a person who has not yet been convicted attracted undue publicity for his unproven transgression.

Edgeler says that could mean that the consequences of publishing the person’s name would be so damaging that it would be unfair or unjustified to make them suffer the consequence.

“It is relatively rare. Certainly permanent suppression is relatively rare, ”he says.

“The fact that someone is famous is not a basis on which the name can be suppressed. They still have to meet the legal test, ”he says. “There has to be a very serious level of harm that the publication of their name would cause them.

“But in fact, the media reports (for example) former All Blacks that they are charged with crimes basically every time it happens. And they don’t report (the) random guys on the street we’ve never heard of. And so as a consequence of … the way the media operates, what people care about, the consequences of being a famous person in court is that you get a lot more publicity than anyone else in court. .

“If the media is not going to report your case, or maybe a line will appear on page 14 of a local newspaper … you don’t need to ask for the name to be removed.”

Death threats, repercussions for family members or the possible collapse of a company are reasons for being granted a cloak of secrecy, basically when the consequences of the sentence fall on the people before they have been sentenced.

But there is no doubt that name suppression is a tool of the rich.

If you are wealthy and the police have told you something, you can hire a lawyer right away and that lawyer can request the name expunged right away.

If you rely on free legal aid, you won’t have your own lawyer until after your first court appearance, at which point it will be too late for you, the cat will be out of the bag if someone is sitting on the press bench.

Edgeler also explains how name suppression can be effectively prolonged even if rejected, through appeals. That also requires a good lawyer. He quotes the old adage that it is better to be a guilty rich man than an innocent poor man when it comes to the criminal justice system.

But sometimes the reverse is also true: More than 200 people have been charged with Alert Level 4 violations since the restrictions went into effect, but the only ones whose names we know are William Willis and Hannah Rawnsley.

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www.rnz.co.nz

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