The eternal name suppression debate

Name suppression cases are always a good conversation-starter in NZ. There are the (to me) very clear-cut cases where giving the accused name suppression is necessary to protect the identities of their victims – though some anti-suppression diehards don’t even think that’s ethically okay.

On the other hand I can’t get past the fact that New Zealand has an incredibly small, infinitely inter-related population. Either “everyone knows” who the people involved are – or at least a broad circle around them – or, as we’ve seen in previous cases, enough people who match the description publicly deny it’s them, which narrows down the field considerably depending on their geographic location, career, or other affiliations.

This one, however, doesn’t have the “protection of victims” aspect:

The son of a New Zealand rich-lister has won a fight to keep his name secret after he allegedly punched a female police officer in the face.

The police officer suffered a black eye, serious swelling to her face and needed hospital treatment.

The man was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, assaulting a security guard and damaging a window during the March 26 incident outside the popular Dunedin student haunt Shooters Bar.

On Tuesday, Judge Anne Kiernan ordered that the man’s name be kept secret for the next three weeks.

Details around that hearing have also been suppressed, but it can be reported that Judge Kiernan found publishing his name could prejudice his right to a fair trial.

It does, however, involve that red rag to an online commenter bull: a seemingly straightforward case where the only knowable fact about the accused is that his family is rich.

Name suppression until trial seems fair enough. The interesting part will come after that. As the article states:

Previous controversy around high-profile offenders prompted a 2010 Law Commission report in which the Government overhauled the rules for suppressing names and evidence.

It found there is no grounds for suppression based solely on the fact a defendant is well known.

But that’s always the suspicion when someone rich/famous/related to someone important is involved. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this case sparks another round of the name suppression debate.

(On a side note, the Herald article is a fascinating study of how the word “allegedly” is used in reporting of crimes which haven’t gone to trial. After all, the young man may not be officially guilty of assault under the law, but the security officer involved presumably didn’t sustain “bruising, swelling and tenderness to his left eye and a cut to the elbow” from out of thin air.)

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