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Goff Looks At Law Change After Shooter Identified

Goff Looks At Law Change After Shooter Identified

The Government is considering making it illegal to identify police officers involved in shootings, following the publication of the name and photograph of the officer who killed Waitara man Stephen Wallace on the web site www.advantageadvocacy.co.nz over the weekend.

Justice Minister Phil Goff said at today's post-Cabinet press conference that he favoured giving courts the power to suppress the names of officers involved in shootings while they were being investigated, but said any law change would have to balance the right of free speech and the right of privacy.

Mr Goff said at this point courts cannot suppress the name of someone who is not charged with a criminal offence, but the media has predominantly honoured a voluntary protocol that they do not name police being investigated for shootings.

No moves were made to change the law last year when National Business Review and Scoop's Sludge Report published the name of the officer who shot Stephen Wallace, but Mr Goff said the Government had been forced into action as www.advantageadvocacy.co.nz has made it possible to identify the officer wherever he lives by publishing his photograph and name.

"Regrettably in the age of the Internet a single individual can act as judge and jury," he said.

The police officer who shot Stephen Wallace is still being investigated by the Police Compaints Authority and a Coroner's Inquest. Mr Goff said the Government believes the officer has a right to anonymity pending the results of these investigations.

"If they're found not to be culpable its hard to see why they should be exposed," Mr Goff said.

The Justice Minister said it must be enormously traumatic to take the life of another, without being subject to harassment from the public. He said he is also deeply distressed that the officer's wife had been subject to abuse.

Mr Goff said in a perfect world gagging of the press would not be necessary. "We don't live in a perfect world. Not everyone keeps to the protocol. voluntary restraint is always better than enforced restraint."

He said any law change would be across all media, but acknowledged the Government could not legislate to prevent publication of details on overseas based web sites.

Mr Goff said the Ministry of Justice will be consulting with interested parties including the Police Association and the Law society and media groups before reporting to him giving advice on options. Mr Goff said at that point he will put those options to Cabinet.

Mr Goff said he expected a private member's bill drafted by National MP Paul Hutchison would not become an issue as ACT have said they will not support it.

Dr Hutchison’s bill would grant name suppression to police officers involved in a fatal shooting until the appropriate authorities had completed their investigations.

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