Friday, April 07, 2006

Suppression orders could be lifted - internet lawyer

Radio New Zealand
Suppression orders could be lifted - internet lawyer
Posted at 12:23pm on 7 Apr 2006

A Wellington barrister who specialises in internet law, says court suppression orders about the Louise Nicholas rape case could be lifted, because so many people are now aware of the suppressed information.

Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards and two former officers Bob Schollum and Bradley Shipton were last Friday found not guilty by an Auckland High Court jury on 20 rape and sexual assault charges.

Since then pamphlets, faxes and now emails containing information suppressed by the court, have been widely distributed.

Lawyers for Mr Shipton and Mr Schollom have written to police to ask them how they plan to deal with the situation.

But Internet law specialist, Peter Dengate-Thrush, says once the information is out there it is very difficult to get it back, and the view of the courts is that once it is in the public domain, they will not longer maintain suppression orders.

And he says because the information is being forwarded by personal email it could mean thousands of people would have to be prosecuted.

Police investigate but no action yet taken

Although police are investigating the possible breach of suppression orders; so far no action has been taken against those known to have handed out the pamphlets.

National's Justice Spokesperson, Richard Worth says that is not good enough; and that by not acting immediately, the Crown is encouraging people to continue spreading suppressed information.

Criminal Bar Association president, Peter Winter, says lawyers would support making an example of those who have spread the information.

Police are collating information about the matter and a legal opinion will be sought.

Contempt of court

The issue of contempt of court is being dealt with separately by the Solicitor-General's office.
The issue raises questions about the point of suppression orders in high profile cases - given that information spreads so easily via the internet.

Until this week; a suppression order prevented television presenter Lana Co-croft being identified in relation to a celebrity drug scandal last year in Auckland. But her name had already been spread via email and word of mouth since the scandal first broke.

The offence of breaching suppression orders carries a $1,000 maximum fine, and does not carry a term of imprisonment.

Contempt of court charges are far more serious: under Section 9 of the Crimes Act, there is no maximum sentence for the charge. This means anyone prosecuted for contempt in this case could face a prison term.

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