Proposals could penalise jurors for Googling

  • 18/05/2014

The Law Commission has released a discussion paper to have the laws around contempt solidified in legislation which could include changing the way jurors access information before a trial.

The Contempt in Modern New Zealand paper includes a number of other proposals which would enshrine, make clear and modernise the judge-made laws.

Commission president and former Court of Appeal judge Sir Grant Hammond says there is nothing in law around contempt, but has instead evolved and developed by judges over time and lacks clarity.

"Everyone agrees we need law relating to something like contempt. We have to have something to protect the administration of justice," he says.

"Courts are mostly terribly boring places, but when it all goes wrong it takes you by surprise very quickly."

The Commission wants statutory offences for jurors so it is clear what they can and can't do, however, it was important potential jurors don't get put off doing their civic duty.

One of the proposals in the paper includes banning the publication of a person's previous convictions before their trial. The proposal would mean doing so would be an offence, though permission to report previous convictions could still be made to the court.

The Commission says one of the problems in the internet age is limiting the amount of research jurors can do before or during a trial and how people use the internet should be taken into account.

"The internet and advances in technology mean it is now more difficult to shield jurors from exposure to extraneous information during a trial."

Judge Peter Boshier, who is leading the Commission's review, says the lack of clarity around what can be published can be "very hit and miss" and media need to know where the boundaries are.

However, bloggers are more of a concern for the Commission in that they don't have as many constraints as the mainstream media.

Contempt law is the area in someone can currently be punished without actually committing an offence.

Judge Boshier used an example of a boy who was "spirited away" by his grandfather and his mother wouldn't say where they were. She was sent to prison until she said something.

The paper is open for public submissions until August 22, after which the commission with file its final report. It will then be passed on to Justice Minister Judith Collins to be tabled in Parliament for discussion, likely in 2015.

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source: newshub archive