Burn The Books Mentality In NZ Legal System
Tuesday 29 March, 2005.
Burn The Books Mentality In New Zealand Legal System
New Zealanders who care about the workings of our legal system should be deeply concerned that Anne Hunt, one of our most knowledgeable writers about mental health issues, is undergoing what amounts to a secret trial in order to suppress her most recent book, "Broken Silence", according to the Democrats’ social issues researcher David Tranter.
The book, an account of the legal processes surrounding a sexual abuse case, was published in 2003 and briefly released but then withdrawn by order of the Wellington High Court. It is now subject to an ongoing legal process under which the Court has forbidden Mrs Hunt from letting anybody know the reason she is facing contempt of court and other charges.
Amongst the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this matter, Judge Wild of the Wellington High Court issued an ex parte order prohibiting her from letting even her husband know that she is facing serious charges. Further, it took nine months before Mrs Hunt managed to convince the Court to uplift the order suppressing the existence of the legal proceeding, a court order sought by the plaintiff's lawyer Hugh Rennie QC to allow his client 'his day in court'. Even now, all documents relating to her case remain confidential.
Broken Silence documents a landmark civil claim for exemplary damages legally-aided to the Privy Council because it raised principles of law which an Attorney-General certified as having great public importance. Prior to publication, the manuscript was checked over by a Queen's Counsel familiar with this litigation.
Mrs Hunt, a Horowhenua district councillor, says she is prepared to defend the charges vigorously. More importantly, she is determined to bring her case to the attention of the general public because it sets a dangerous precedent when Judges sanction secret hearings in order to ban books which offend a private citizen.
Secret trials, according to the Law Commission, are warranted only when there is a potential threat to national security. If the New Zealand legal system is going to descend to a burn the books mentality in this case we should all be fearful of the wider consequences, Mr Tranter said.