Why Wānaka couple were granted interim name suppression

The couple accused of fleeing Auckland's level 4 restrictions for freedom in Wānaka were granted interim name suppression after their lawyer argued having their identities revealed on social media could cause them hardship.

The pair, a 35-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman - and the man's mother, a public official - can't be named until a High Court ruling later on Tuesday.

The pair have come under enormous public scrutiny ever since they were caught by police in the South Island town, where the man's family has a holiday home.

Police are considering laying charges under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order. A spokesperson told Newshub enquiries are ongoing and a decision hasn't been made yet.

The couple's lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, applied for interim name suppression in the District Court on Monday.

She warned bloggers and social media advocates might not wait until their first court appearance to name the pair, and filed copies of various social media posts and blogs as evidence.

She also cited a previous name suppression judgement which noted the "potential hardship caused by the pernicious, judgmental, exponential, indelible and often ill-informed publication on social media platforms".

Judge Bruce Davidson granted the interim name suppression, although he questioned whether he had the statutory authority to do so.

The wording of the relevant law states the ability to grant name suppression comes when a person is 'charged with' an offence or make a 'first appearance' in court. Neither the couple or the mother have been charged or appeared in court.

"My powers are statutorily based, supplemented by such implied or incidental powers necessary to give effect to those," Judge Davidson said.

"The issue is one of jurisdiction, not merit. As I have noted my preliminary view, in the limited time available to me and without full argument of the matter, was that I did not have jurisdiction."

However he decided to grant the interim name suppression to allow the defendants and the mother to apply to the High Court for non-publication orders on a pre-charge basis.

"The orders will expire at 7:00 pm tonight on the basis Ms Reed QC will apply to the High Court which clearly has the necessary inherent jurisdiction to deal with the matter," he said.

Lawyer Robert Stewart, who is acting for the media, said he would abide by the decision.