Whale-watching: Always take the weather (with you)

I really don’t know why Cameron Slater (aka Whaleoil) wants to take on the NZ legal system, but my advice to the balls out blogger comes in two parts:

  1. Shut-up
  2. Get a good lawyer

?The first part is easy. Cameron, no matter how much you believe in your anti-name suppression crusade, you are making things worse for yourself by tricks like this:

Police will investigate a blogger for revealing the identity of a former politician accused of an indecent assault on a 13-year-old girl.

Cameron Slater yesterday outed the former MP from the top of the South Island by naming him in a binary code on his blog.

[NZ Herald, 12.01.10]

In a post yesterday Whaleoil said the binary code doesn’t breach name suppression orders:

  1. Firstly I did not defy name sup­pres­sion laws. I cat­e­gor­i­cally deny I did any such thing. I sim­ply posted some Binary Code with a Base64 Title. None of which iden­ti­fies by name, address or occu­pa­tion “in any account or report relat­ing to any proceedings”
  2. The “binary code which, when con­verted”, does NOT reveals the iden­tity of a defendant.

The link in 2. is to a TV3 piece that claims the code does reveal details likely to identify someone subject to name suppression

When converted, the computer coding in today’s post reveals the name of a national figure charged with the indecent assault of a girl aged between 12 and 16.

3news.co.nz had the code analysed by one of our programmers, who confirmed it indeed does reveal the name of the accused and his former role.

Court documents show it is alleged the man touched the girl’s breasts and genitals on December 30, 2009.

[Blogger investigated

Mocks suppression laws]

I don’t know if the code does or doesn’t translate, but both Fairfax and TV3 are reporting that they cracked it.

There’s more coded text on Whaleoil’s blog and I sadly think that this cat&mouse game is a sign that something is wrong.

It seems clear to me that Mr Slater needs some solid and effective legal advice. Maybe he’s getting it and he knows what he’s doing. Or it’s Don Quixote territory.

I’m also not sure Cameron is all that clear about his own motives. He seems naively surprised that his actions have attracted police and media attention.

Slater said he had received many supportive messages from victims of sexual abuse, saying they wished they were able to name their abusers.

And he said he did not name the former politician to attract publicity.

“People say that I’m publicity-seeking but I’m not,” Slater said.

“I didn’t seek for the police to charge me and I didn’t seek for you guys to publish about it.”

[NZ Herald, 12.01.10]

I don’t know what he expected then.  Of course there’s interest. After Cameron’s 1st legal outing last week, any further development was always going to get attention.

The root cause of this binary charade is that Cameron Slater doesn’t like the legal niceties that allow some defendants and convicted criminals to have their identity suppressed by the courts. He has repeatedly said so on his blog. This recent example pretty much sums up Whaleoil’s position:

All the hush-hush that comes with name sup­pres­sion in cases like this [sexual assault of a minor] is sup­posed to be for the ben­e­fit of the vic­tim. the thing is no-one ever asks a vic­tim what they think about it usu­ally because they are too young at the time. This allows the kiddy-fiddlers to get way with it for so long.

Right now one of the cases that I am alleged to have named both the vic­tim and the accused (”The Olympian”) and the case of the “Come­dian”, both of these fel­lows have been ordered to stay away from the com­plainant and in one case ordered to stay away from young chil­dren. The ex-MP with name sup­pres­sion is in the same boat. The thing is this. If we can’t be allowed to know who it is that should stay away from var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions or peo­ple then how can they be reported for breach­ing the court instruc­tion because we aren’t allowed to know who they are in the first place. There­fore we run a real risk of there being more vic­tims, espe­cially as they are all out on bail. If they were known then they would effec­tively be under house arrest as they sure as hell wouldn’t show their faces anywhere.

[Gotcha 12/01/10]

There might seem some logic here, but it is fatally flawed. In these cases, there is an accused and these person’s have a right to the presumption of innocence until the legal system says otherwise. I think the cops have got it right on this one.

“Clearly it attacks the very heart of our criminal justice system in a number of ways; that a person is entitled to presumption of innocence until the opposite is proven, the right to a fair trial, and in this case the breach of that order has the potential to identify the victim – the very reason the order was imposed.”

Mr Winter said he would be liaising with police in Auckland over the previous breaches as well as speaking to a crown solicitor and the judge who issued the suppression order.

“He’s certainly testing the boundaries of the law which doesn’t adequately cover the use or abuse of the internet, so there’s grey areas in both domestic and international law,” he said.

[Nelson Bays police area commander Detective Inspector John Winter @ Stuff.co.nz]

When media outlets get involved in trying cases before the courts they overstep the mark. We call it “trial by media”.

It is not up to Cameron Slater, the Weekend Truth, or anyone else ; either private individual, or media outlet, to prejudge the issues in these cases.

I wrote last week on the emotional pull of vigilantism in sex cases, we clearly see that here.

Bloggers and tabloid media want to be judge, jury and executioner.

I have more to say on this but I’m painfully pecking with one hand due to a large cast on my left arm. More later.

3 Responses to Whale-watching: Always take the weather (with you)

  1. Keith Ng says:

    I talked to him at the District Court on his first appearance. He seemed convinced that he had a strong case because there were spelling errors on the summons, and that blogging didn’t count as “a report of the proceedings of the court” (as I understand it, this part actually has some merits).

    He didn’t have a lawyer at the time…

  2. Keith. I think that a ‘bush lawyerly’ opinion of what constitutes a report of court proceedings is not good grounds for a defence in this instance.

    Checking in Burrows & Cheers, the section on defamation may hold a key. “Report” is widely defined in the sense of attracting privilege as a defence. But I don’t see anything that will help the dear Whale.

    it’s also an anti-argument – that is, does Whale want to be part of media & have a “right” to comment on & challenge court proceedings; or is he arguing blogging is “different”?

  3. Keith Ng says:

    Oh, that was “as I understand it [from an actual lawyer, who I don't want to name in case I *didn't* understand it and make him sound like an ass]…”

    The gist of what he said [as I understand it!] was that the broader definition of report is something that they could argue at the appeals stage, and conceivably win.

    EM: Tx Keith, I wasn’t questioning your comment, but that I think that argument is weak in this case.

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