What’s in a name? A history of New Zealand’s unique name suppression laws and their impact on press freedom
The principle of open justice, including the media’s right to attend and report on criminal courts, must be balanced with the protection of individuals’ privacy and an accused person’s fair trial rights. Prohibiting media from identifying those involved in criminal cases is one way privacy and fair trial rights may be protected in New Zealand. Court news was not always restricted in this way: 115 years ago all parts of criminal court proceedings could be reported and media decided what information was censored. In 1905, New Zealand judges were given the power to suppress court evidence to protect public morality, and 15 years later, the power to suppress the names of certain first offenders to give them a second chance. The laws now stretch to suppressing many kinds of evidence and the identities of some people accused and convicted of New Zealand’s most serious crimes. Investigation of the 115-year-long evolution of New Zealand’s name suppression laws illuminates a piecemeal, but severe, curtailment of media freedom and a trend of imposition of increasingly complex laws which journalists must keep abreast of, understand and observe to prevent appearing before the courts themselves.
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