11 Oct 2008

Fairfax wins contempt case over police raids

3:50 pm on 11 October 2008

Contempt charges have been dismissed against Fairfax Media and a Wellington newspaper editor over the publication of surveillance material following police raids in 2007.

The media organisation and Tim Pankhurst, editor of the The Dominion Post, were before the High Court in Wellington charged with contempt of court.

The Wellington newspaper published extracts from police surveillance information gathered during an investigation of suspected terrorism after a series of police raids last year.

Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, who brought the case, alleged that the material published breached the fair trial rights of those accused of offences under the Arms Act.

The High Court did not support that. However, the court ruled that at least seven of the documents contravened court suppression orders and their publication was unlawful as they were extracts from known intercepted communications.

The court says responsibility for prosecuting such cases lies with police, rather than the Solicitor-General. However, Mr Pankhurst says police have already decided not to prosecute.

He told Checkpoint on Friday that the High Court decision, is a good one for media, but does not give the media licence to be more bold in similar situations.

Mr Pankhurst says the judges said the time between publication and the accused people's court appearances meant it was unlikely to unduly influence a jury or the right to a fair trial.

He says the newspaper sought to correct what it perceived as a fragmented coverage of the raids in news media.

Decision lamentable - lawyer

The lawyer for one of the people caught up in the raids, Michael Bott says the finding is disappointing.

He says the ruling means there is no effective sanction for breach of court orders aimed at protecting rights to a fair trial.

"In this case we had quite flagrant violations of court suppression orders that were given by the court to try and protect fair trial rights of people accused of quite serious charges.

Mr Bott says the decision is lamentable.