Name suppression falls 90 per cent in four years

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 18/08/2014

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Manawatu people before the court are finding it more difficult to keep their names secret, with the number of people getting permanent suppression dropping 90 per cent in four years.

Figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act show that 15 people in greater Manawatu courts - Palmerston North, Levin, Dannevirke and Marton - were given permanent name suppression last year.

That is a 90 per cent decrease from 2010, when 135 managed to get permanent suppression.

The same trend happened with interim name suppression orders, although not to the same extent.

There were 44 orders given in 2010 in Manawatu courts, and 24 given last year. The numbers combine orders given in district, high and youth courts to protect the identity of those given suppression.

District courts general manager Tony Fisher said the large drop in suppression orders was down to a change in the law.

In March 2012 the threshold for name suppression was raised. While people could previously get it if publishing their name was likely to cause undue hardship, the wording was changed to extreme hardship.

There was also a specific clause added, saying that the fact a defendant was well known was not itself a reason to say publication of their name meant they would suffer extreme hardship.

The law change was partly a reaction to a perception that celebrities were treated more leniently than the general public. "As expected, the number of interim and final name suppression orders dropped from the year 2012," Fisher said.

People who got interim name suppression at their first court appearance would usually lose it at their next appearance unless the judge continued the interim order or made a final one, he said.

A Tararua man is likely to be one of those people to lose their name suppression next month, when he is sentenced for indecently assaulting a girl aged between 12 and 16.

He pleaded guilty to the charge in the Palmerston North District Court in June, and applied for interim name suppression.

Defence lawyer Peter Coles said the man needed suppression in order to fairly deal with various issues surrounding the case.

Judge Gerard Lynch granted the order, but said it was unlikely to be made permanent due to the high threshold required.

One person to successfully get permanent name suppression recently was a Levin mother who was sentenced this month to four months' home detention for the manslaughter of her toddler.

The child drowned in 2012 after the woman left it alone in a bath.

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Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk opposed the suppression on the grounds there was no evidence the woman had a known or treatable mental health condition, or that she was suicidal. But defence lawyer Steve Winter said suppression should be given for the sake of the woman's surviving children.

Judges can give name suppression on the basis publication would endanger someone's safety, or would cause extreme hardship to someone connected with the person.

Justice Ronald Young said at the time he granted the suppression by "the slimmest of margins".

- Manawatu Standard

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