Call for name suppression to be scrapped for anyone convicted of a crime

Matthew Tukaki.
Matthew Tukaki. Photo credit: The AM Show/Getty

A prominent legal mind has thrown his support behind a call for a review of name suppression laws, saying the present system allows the misbehaving wealthy to keep their identities secret. 

Matthew Tukaki of the National Māori Authority and the NZ Māori Council wants an overhaul of the Criminal Procedures Act 2011, which allows offenders and the accused to ask for the courts to ban media from reporting their names for a range of reasons, including that it would cause "extreme" or "undue hardship".

Veteran legal academic Bill Hodge of the University of Auckland told Newshub while the present law includes a clause clarifying that being well-known does not on its own mean "publication of his or her name will result in extreme hardship", it seems judges "aren't taking it seriously enough". 

"Ten years ago we had a series of cases before the current Act was put in place, there were All Blacks, rugby players, prominent persons, international athletes and a series of 'celebrities' who automatically argued - because they had good lawyers - that the publication of their name would be disproportionate to the alleged crime that they had committed".

This was meant to be fixed in the 2011 Act. But it's still happening - the latest case a prominent businessman found guilty in March of numerous sexual assaults and trying to cover it up. His lawyer even argued he'd been "targeted" because of his success, 1 News reported

"Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean your name should be kept secret and your behaviours should be kept secret," said Hodge. "It may be that we're slipping back into protecting celebrities, and that's a bad thing." 

Tukaki said the businessman was back to "enjoying life as normal".

"That quite frankly is wrong," he told Te Ao Maori News. "And in case after case after case the method seems to be that those who can afford a decent lawyer... will always be able to use the system to their advantage."

Name suppression is largely a New Zealand phenomenon, as was demonstrated in 2018 when offshore news sites revealed suppressed details in the Grace Millane murder case, including the alleged killer's name. 

Hodge said Labour even passed a law in the early 1970s which allowed everyone to get suppression, but realised it was a bad idea when an MP was charged with offending against young boys.

"Immediately a whole bunch of Labour MPs put their hands and said 'no, no, it wasn't me'... it demonstrated pretty painfully to the Labour government back then that automatic name suppression was a terrible idea. People were being sullied by association."

Hodge suspects people with good lawyers are able to get name suppression from judges at the start of a case, knowing that "once you let the cat out of the bag, you can't put it back in again".

"The judge might say, 'I don't know if any of those are true, but until I know a bit more I will grant you suppression,' then it creeps on."

Tukakai said the public has a right to know when someone has been convicted of a crime, no matter their standing in society.

"While a case is going on there is no reason why name suppression couldn’t be applied but, when the case is concluded, is there really a need for  name suppression?" 

Hodge thinks no one accused of a crime should get name suppression.

"There should be a strong default that is the basic normal situation is open justice and names are published. Now the big exception - and I think everyone agrees and I have no problem with this - is victims... Victims should presumably be protected and their names should not be published. For perpetrators, we should have open justice."