How criminal cases begin: Pleading guilty/not guilty, bail, and name suppression
What is name suppression?
Name suppression means that your name and any details that may identify you cannot be published. For example, your name cannot be published in a newspaper article about the case – however, in some cases it can be difficult to get articles on the internet taken down.
Note: Criminal case hearings are open to the public except in special cases.
When is name suppression available?
Name suppression is available in the following situations:
- for victims and defendants in specific sexual cases, the aim being to protect the victim
- for children under 17 who are complainants or witnesses in criminal proceedings
- where specifically stated in a law – for example, section 438 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 restricts publication of any proceedings of the Youth Court except with the permission of the court
- for defendants and any other people connected to the court case (for example, witnesses, victims), at the discretion of the court, subject to certain considerations.
What factors are relevant in deciding whether to grant name suppression?
If you’re charged in the criminal courts, you can apply for name suppression in some cases. The judge can order this if they’re satisfied that publishing your name would be likely to have one of the following effects:
- cause “extreme hardship” to you, your family or others connected to you
- put suspicion on someone else so that they’re caused “undue hardship”
- cause undue hardship to a victim
- create a real risk of you not getting a fair trial (for example, if your name is published it might influence potential jurors)
- put someone in danger
- lead to someone else who has name suppression being identified
- interfere with the operation of the law (prejudice the maintenance of the law) or national security or defence.
Note: The fact that a defendant is well-known does not necessarily mean they will be eligible for name suppression on the basis that they would suffer extreme hardship.
Example: What does extreme hardship mean?
An employee of two community organisations had stolen a substantial sum of money from their employers. They argued that publishing their name would endanger their safety and cause extreme hardship to them, their family and their employer. They claimed they would lose their job if their name was published. The Court of Appeal did not accept this argument. It said that “extreme hardship” is a very high test to satisfy – hardship on its own means severe suffering, so extreme hardship must be something beyond the usual hardship and embarrassment associated with the consequences of publication.
Example: Extreme hardship and social media
A 22 year old person admitted two charges of indecent assault after events at a political party’s summer camp. They were discharged without conviction. They argued for name suppression and the case went to the Court of Appeal. Their lawyer argued that based on their age, mental health and future job prospects, that they and their family would suffer extreme hardship if their name was made public.
The Court of Appeal focused on the potential hardship the young person might face if they were named on social media. The court found that they could be subjected to condemnation or trolling on social media if their name was released because of the political context of the events and the level of public interest.
The court said that on social media there is no code of ethics, no complaints procedure and no way of controlling posts unlike mainstream media. They said there was no reasonable expectation that the reporting on social media would be fair or accurate. The court said that while the person could change their name or go offline, they found that the toxic bullying that happens on social media was the main reason why it would be unfair and amount to extreme hardship to make their name public.
Can a person appeal a decision to refuse name suppression?
If the District Court refuses to grant name suppression, you can appeal to the High Court (or to a District Court Judge if the decision was made by Community Magistrates or Justices of the Peace). You have 20 working days (4 weeks) to appeal. If you satisfy the court that you are going to appeal, that court must grant temporary (“interim”) suppression for that 20-day appeal period. When you do file an appeal, the suppression continues until the appeal is decided.
Can name suppression be enforced overseas?
No – if news outlets overseas publish a story about a case, there is no way of enforcing a name suppression order. In 2019, the government had some discussions with the governments of the UK, US, Canada and Australia to try work out how overseas companies could be bound by New Zealand name suppression orders. However, there have not been any recent updates.
Order to clear the court
The court has the power to make an order to clear the court (where everyone but the parties leave the court) and forbid any reporting of proceedings (in newspapers or other media). This only happens in certain limited circumstances when it is necessary and when a suppression order would not be enough. The order can be made to avoid any of the following:
- undue disruption of the proceedings – for example, the court case could be disrupted because of the high profile of the defendant
- risking the security or defence of New Zealand
- a real risk of making the trial unfair (“prejudice”)
- putting any person in danger
- interfering with the operation of the law.
Even if the Court is cleared, and even if you have name suppression, members of the media can’t be excluded from court unless it relates to risking the security or defence of New Zealand.
If you have name suppression, the media can still report on the proceedings as long as they comply with the terms of your name suppression – unless there is an order forbidding reporting on the court proceedings generally (discussed below).
Order forbidding reporting
The court has the power to make orders suppressing the reporting of court proceedings, if the publication would be likely to:
- cause undue hardship to any victim of the offence
- create a real risk of making the trial unfair
- put any person in danger
- lead to the identification of a person whose name is suppressed
- interfere with the operation of the law or the security or defence of New Zealand.