Drunk-driver lists could be made public again

Last updated 15:23 03/04/2014

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The fate of drink-driver and drugged-driver lists remains in limbo, with Justice Minister Judith Collins still waiting on advice about whether they will once again be provided to the media.

A year ago today, the Central Police District refused to continue providing information on drink-driving and drug-driving offenders to the Manawatu Standard, which published it monthly.

The list of names, occupations and sentence details for everybody convicted in Palmerston North District Court for drink-driving or driving under the influence of drugs had been given every month since 2010.

But in a letter to the Standard dated April 3, 2013, Central District commander Superintendent Russell Gibson said improper releases of information by other government agencies resulted in a review of information disclosure practices.

Gibson said any requests should be referred to the Ministry of Justice, but the ministry also cited privacy concerns, before saying it did not hold the information.

Collins has since become involved in the matter.

Last July, Standard editor Michael Cummings wrote to Collins on behalf of the newspaper and the Media Freedom Committee, of which he is a member, in an effort to resolve the matter.

In her reply, almost three months later, Collins said she had been discussing the matter with officials.

"I am aware that rules for accessing court records are not well suited to the regular publication of the information you seek.

"I have therefore directed officials at the Ministry of Justice to provide advice on releasing information on drink-driving offending."

A statement sent from Collins' office to the Standard yesterday said she was still waiting for the advice.

"The Minister is strongly in favour of allowing this information to be available to the public, if it is reasonably able to be done."

"You may also note the Minister's Judicature Modernisation Bill, currently before the House, allows for the publishing of court decisions online. This would include decisions relating to drink driving offences."

Cummings said it was clear the minister believed the information should be made publicly available through the media, but the matter had "become mired in bureaucracy and bizarre notions of privacy".

"There seems to be the belief among some officials looking at this issue that the fact someone has been convicted of drink-driving is public information the day they appear in an open courtroom, but it suddenly becomes private information the day after."

Describing the publication of drink-driver and drugged-driver lists as "naming and shaming" was an over-simplification, Cummings said.

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"Drink-driving, at its heart, is a social crime. Too often it is minimised, or we turn a blind eye to a friend getting behind the wheel after a few drinks.

"Publishing the lists was our way of saying that, as a community, we denounce that behaviour as putting other members of the public at serious risk of harm, or even death."

- Manawatu Standard

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