16 Nov 2009

Law changes would stop name suppression for famous

11:12 pm on 16 November 2009

The Law Commission says its proposed changes to suppression laws would stop people getting their name suppressed on the grounds that identifying them would ruin their career.

In its report, Suppressing Names and Evidence, the Commission recommends sections of the Criminal Justice Act relating to the suppression of name and evidence, and the closure of the court, be repealed and replaced.

At present, courts have a broad discretion to prohibit the publication of things that may identify people accused or convicted of crimes.

The commission's President, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, says the grounds on which suppression may be granted should be clarified and tightened, which would make it harder to get permanent name suppression.

Sir Geoffrey told Checkpoint that under the current rules, the decisions made by individual judges are inconsistent and it's too easy for high-profile people to get suppression orders.

Sir Geoffrey says he doesn't find arguments that a person should not be named because they are well known in the community at all attractive.

"While there may be hardship in that, there's hardship whenever a person is accused of a criminal offence in front of a court.

"But that's part of our system of government - our system of government is also administered in court, not only in parliament and in cabinet."

Sir Geoffrey says it's very important for the public to know what goes on in courts.

The commission says the procedure for granting temporary name suppression orders should also be tightened up.

It says a temporary order made at a defendant's first appearance should only be renewed if evidence supporting the grounds for the order is produced.

The commission says a judge should specifically state the expiry date of any temporary order.

Tougher standards welcome - Power

The Justice Minister, Simon Power, says there is merit in having tougher standards before people can get name suppression, and in specifying in legislation the grounds on which suppression can be granted.

He says what happens in court needs to be open and transparent wherever possible.

Mr Power says he's also interested in moves to deal with the issue of controlling suppressed information on the internet.

The commission's report has now been tabled in Parliament.