Bar Association concerned about undermining of trial
13 December 2018
Bar Association concerned about prospect of undermining trial of Millane accused
Leading New Zealand barristers are concerned that the trial of the man accused of the murder of Grace Millane might be compromised by ongoing breaches of court orders suppressing the name and information about the accused.
New Zealand Bar Association Vice-President and leading criminal barrister, Jonathan Eaton QC, says that while the case has naturally sparked a very strong public response, we need to respect the accused’s fair trial rights. “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.”
Bar Association President Kate Davenport QC and Mr Eaton are calling on those who are breaching the orders, or suggesting ways that people can circumvent them, to stop doing so.
Mr Eaton says these actions are not only endangering a fair trial but potentially any future trial at all. “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.”
Mr Eaton says it is not just the media who have this responsibility to keep within the laws of the justice system. He says people sharing information on social media are equally bound by court orders.
“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.”
Mr Eaton says comments suggesting that the District Court judge should not have ordered interim name suppression were entirely wrong. “Judges are bound by the law as much as anyone else,” says Mr Eaton, “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.”