Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater guilty

CONVICTED: Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater outside Auckland District Court earlier this year.
JOHN SELKIRK/The Dominion Post
CONVICTED: Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater outside Auckland District Court earlier this year.

Controversial blogger Cameron Slater has been convicted of illegally identifying several high profile New Zealanders protected by name suppression orders.

Slater has been an advocate of name suppression law reform, claiming the secrecy protection is given far too easily by the courts, particularly to politicians, sports stars and media celebrities.

This afternoon at the Auckland District Court he was convicted of eight counts of breaching name suppression orders and one count of identifying a victim in a sex case on his Whale Oil blog.

One charge of breaching name suppression orders was dismissed by Judge David Harvey today.

He was fined $750 for each count, a total amount to $6750, and ordered to pay $130 court costs for each charge.

This afternoon Judge Harvey delivered a verbal judgement to the court, first pausing to hand out a disk to Slater containing his findings in PDF format.

"I know his penchant for things digital".

Judge Harvey said the case was not the opportunity to debate whether certain suppression orders should have been granted.

"The behaviour alleged was that the defendant Mr Slater breached non publication orders from various cases form the district court and in one case the high court."

Judge Harvey said the internet made everyone a publisher and with that came responsibility.

"One of those responsibilities is to abide by the law. You have chosen to use your website, blog for the purposes of a political campaign and that is absolutely legitimate.I have no quibble with that.

"But the fact of the matter is you stepped over the lines when you chose to publish names subject to non-publication orders.

"You made value judgements about the names you were going to publish and those you were not.

"You set yourself up as a judge and jury knowing those names were subject to orders but willing to flout the law notwithstanding.

"I don't imagine anything which happens today or is about to happen today will change your point of view but I hope it will change your behaviour."

The crown said Slater had identified a number of high-profile people with name suppressing by either naming them, representing them with a "pictogram" series of images or publishing their names in binary code.

In a section on his blog called "interesting names", Slater published names but no details linking them to court cases, the court was told.

At the earlier hearing Slater's lawyer Gregory Thwaite told the court his client had no case to answer for name suppression breaches as suppression laws only referred to direct reports of court proceedings.

Thwaite argued that it was higher courts had argued it was legal to discuss names individuals had heard in courts and blogs were an extension of this.

At today's hearing Thwaite told Judge Harvey he should assess whether the suppression orders in question should ever have been applied.

Judge Harvey said: "So if a high court judge makes a suppression order I can, on a subsequent occasion, say 'sorry you're wrong'.

Thwaite replied: "Yes your honour when it comes to a criminal prosecution. Because effectively it's the only way to assess the validity of an order."

Judge Harvey called the argument "a novel concept".

"I can't revisit what another judge has done. If an order has been made an order has been made."

To do so would bring "the entire the system of justice into disrepute", Judge Harvey said.

"For heavens sake suppose the Supreme Court makes a suppression order am I required to go behind it?

"I simply do not have the power to do that."

Thwaite also argued that New Zealand's official language were English, Maori and New Sign language.

Any mention of a person's name which occurred in other languages or through pictures was not a breach of law.

Burns said anything which led to the identification of an individual protected by name suppression was a breach of the court order.

"A name is a name is a name. Whether its spoken, whether its written or whether its established by a pictogram."