Has the internet killed suppression?

Do you ever get the urge to be naughty, especially if you are never found out? Do you ever fancy committing a crime and not have to worry about having your name splashed all over the papers?

Darren Greenwood
(Credit: Darren Greenwood)

Do you ever get the urge to be naughty, especially if you are never found out? Do you ever fancy committing a crime and not have to worry about having your name splashed all over the papers?

Well, if you are part of an elite group, New Zealand is the place for you. You could be a celebrity that likes to indulge in drugs. You could be a senior politician involved in a million-dollar-plus fraud case. Or, as we saw last week, you could be a 30-something musician who likes to thrust the heads of teenage girls into your unmentionables!

I have covered courts in England, Scotland and New Zealand and I am amazed at the name suppression orders given out to protect the guilty here.

The courts argue that such well-known individuals would suffer extra punishment for being well known. Lawyers for the certain 30-something musician argued last week that if people knew it was he that misbehaved with a young girl in a Wellington street, they might not buy his records anymore.

Were they taking the P? Or, were they on the money with these comments? But as several bloggers discussed after the verdict, is such name suppression pointless in an online era? David Farrar at Kiwiblog asked his readers not to say who the musician was, but to post if they did know and which city they live in. His experiment showed many did know, and a few commentors posted the odd hint to educate the rest.

Indeed, with such details given in newspaper coverage, like the date of the offence and that it happened after the Auckland-based singer performed in Wellington, it was easy to work out who he was, especially when even the TV coverage with his features blurred showed he was such a shortie!

Thus, chat rooms, blogs, social media sites, etc, discussed the matter, with comments also appearing on the website of a certain 30-something musician from Auckland, though it seems they have been removed.

However, other 30-something musicians might feel smeared. Such suppression orders might cast doubt on the character of others with similar descriptions. Surely naming and shaming is part of the punishment, and as public figures, they might be expected to set an example and behave themselves.

Of course, there may well be cases for suppression orders to be made, say releasing details that might prejudice a case as we see here. Or even here.

But look what happens if you break them. This week, a website publisher was arrested for publishing details of police terror raids on his website. It seems Vince Siemer is well known to the courts already.

Well, what fortuitous timing for Internet New Zealand, the Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice to announce a seminar on suppression orders, contempt of court and the internet for 3 December.

With so many of us blogging, using Facebook, Twitter and the like, we have become publishers too, so this is something that might interest and affect us all!

InternetNZ spokesperson Jordan Carter says the legal issues caused by internet publishing are well known and significant. They include the undermining (deliberately or otherwise) of suppression orders, the lack of jurisdiction over internet material hosted outside New Zealand, and public discussion of crimes and trials potentially being a contempt of court.

He added later:

"The seminar should prove a useful input into the review of the law of contempt currently being undertaken by the Law Commission, consideration of the desirability of initiatives such as a central register of suppression orders, and also any wider review of contempt law that the government undertakes."

Now, back to our 30-something musician. Perhaps he should have outed himself and taken the rap. We still know who he is, but now we also see him as a short yellow-belly for hiding behind such legal niceties!