Lawyer wants assault case thrown out of court
High-profile lawyer Jonathan Eaton has indicated he will fight to stop proceedings in the Jesse Ryder assault case because "inaccurate" media coverage has damaged his client's right to a fair trial.
However, a leading law academic believes Eaton faces an almost impossible task to achieve the rare feat, because of the extreme threshold that exists to have a case thrown out of court.
The revelation came as a 20-year-old yesterday admitted assaulting Ryder outside Aikmans Bar in Christchurch in March.
A second charge of assault was withdrawn by police.
His uncle, a 37-year-old man, charged with assault and injuring with reckless disregard for safety, has elected trial.
He will appear in court again next month.
Judge John Macdonald continued name suppression for both men after listening to submissions from their lawyers, police and the media during the hearing in the Christchurch District Court.
Eaton argued successfully that identity would be an issue in the case and suppression was important to protect his 37-year-old client's right to a fair trial. Police supported his view.
"The incident has largely been captured on CCTV footage, but it's late at night, it's very fast moving and it's over in a very short period of time. It doesn't give any definitive answer as to who did what," Eaton said.
He also indicated he would seek a stay of proceedings to stop the case proceeding to trial, because "very inaccurate" reporting may have "polluted the jury pool".
"It seems almost inevitable that the defence for [the 37-year-old] will be bringing an application for a permanent stay [of proceedings] on the grounds of a breach of his fair trial rights," he said.
"It [a stay of proceedings] has been discussed as a possible sanction for irresponsible or inaccurate reporting."
However, the head of the University of Canterbury School of Law, Dr Chris Gallavin, said there was almost no chance Eaton would be able to have the case thrown out.
"The threshold for that to be made would have to be so extreme. I don't think it's anywhere near that."
He pointed to the second trial of David Bain which went ahead, albeit in a different city, despite the high-profile nature of the case.
"Everybody in New Zealand had an opinion on David Bain's guilt or innocence. The courts still believed that a jury would be capable of putting that from their minds and deciding that case on the evidence put to them in court."
During the hearing, Eaton said media reports of a brutal, unprovoked attack on Ryder and the nature of the injuries he suffered - a fractured skull and punctured lung - were simply not true.
Instead, the police summary described a dispute, which escalated after Ryder left the bar without repaying a round bought for him by the youngest accused, he said.
Eaton said police allege Ryder was assaulted by both men before Eaton's client, the 37-year-old man, allegedly punched him in the head causing him to fall to the ground.
Ryder hit his head, causing severe concussion and later swallowed vomit which caused problems with his lungs, Eaton said.
"Overall, this case has . . . ballooned out of control both in terms of giving the public an idea about what this case is all about and of respect being shown for court processes."
Fairfax Media's decision to publish the men's names before their first court appearance had "aggravated" the issue and was the subject of a complaint to the solicitor-general, he said.
Adam Couchman, the 20-year-old's lawyer, argued for suppression because of fears for his client's safety.
Public perception of what he did was "poles apart" from reality, he said.