The New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA) is worried that ongoing breaches to court orders suppressing the name and information about the suspect in the killing of British tourist Grace Millane could compromise the accused’s trial.
“There is an alarming trend in the reporting and the sharing of information of this case that could open the way to defence counsel arguing that the accused could not get a fair trial,” said Jonathan Eaton QC, leading criminal barrister and NZBA vice-president.
Several British publications have reported suspect’s name after their first appearance at the Auckland District Court earlier this week.
Eaton and NZBA President Kate Davenport QC are urging those who are breaching the orders, or are suggesting ways to circumvent the orders, to stop.
The Bar said that breaching the orders hurt not only the current trial, but possibly also any future trial. It is the responsibility of both the media and the public to keep within the law, the organisation said. People who are sharing information via social media are also bound by court orders, Eaton said.
“It is, for example, entirely inappropriate for media organisations and individuals to say where people can find information about the accused. The publicity about the accused undermines the prospect of finding an impartial jury,” Eaton said. “It is a criminal offence to breach a suppression order. It is punishable by up to six months imprisonment. Those who are breaching or helping others to breach or circumvent the court order are not helping, and as the minister of Justice commented, an aborted trial will only add to the grief of the Millane family.”
Eaton also hit back at those criticising the District Court judge for issuing an interim name-suppression order.
“Judges are bound by the law as much as anyone else, and the District Court judge in this case, by law, had to suppress the defendant’s name once it became clear that there would be an appeal against the judge’s initial decision to refuse suppression,” he said.