Judge sets precedent for online reporting – will it affect the Veitch trial?

This week in the Manukau District Court, Judge David Harvey issued a supression order banning online news organisations (and presumably bloggers) from naming two men who have been committed for trail over the murder of 14-year-old John Hapeta on August 12.

The supression order does not apply to print and broadcast media. The judge’s reasoning is interesting. He argued that people (including potential jurors) could “Google” the information during the trial leading to possible prejudicial outcomes and also that material on the Internet tends to go “viral” within a short space of time.

According the the NZ Herald:

Judge Harvey teaches the Law and Information Technology course at the University of Auckland. The course looks at the way technology impacts on evidence, jurisdiction and freedom of information.

Judge Harvey has also written a textbook on the internet and law called internet.law.nz.

Perhaps he needs to read my material on the techno-legal time gap. I’ve written about this idea – which is fairly basic – that the law and regulatory regimes do not always keep up with the technology and what it can do.

Communication and New Media

Communication and New Media

I also wonder if this ruling might be a precedent that the judge sitting on the Tony Veitch case might consider. There’s already concern that some media outlets may have breached the sub judice rule by publishing details of the charges against Mr Veitch over last weekend.

As others have pointed out, the idea that we might all have to go through our online archives and delete references to pending, or live court cases is a bit scary.

Lawyers for the various media companies are scrambling to interepret the ruling and there may well be a challenged to the suppression orders.

6 Responses to Judge sets precedent for online reporting – will it affect the Veitch trial?

  1. NIK says:

    Really, this is just a bizarre ruling — I fail to see how you can exclude one media and not another — would you suppress Television and not Radio, for instance? There’s no real way to enforce this kind of ruling it would seem. I have trouble imaginging this will hold up, myself.

  2. D-man says:

    There may be a method in the judge’s madness, although he is taking an unorthodox step for an officer of the court.
    Ignorant lawyers have been demanding that Internet postings related to people they are representing be taken down from Web sites – even deleted from Google search archives (which is just about impossible).
    It looks as though media companies will band together to appeal this order in the High Court, and take it even higher in order to get a definitive ruling if they’re still not satisfied. The point here is that some high-profile trials are pending and defence lawyers in those cases are likely to seek similar orders. It could be that Judge Harvey is trying to pre-empt such legal faffing about by forcing the issue before the court. This is not a bad move, because in the end we’ll know where we stand. And if the law is an ass, the law must be changed. Getting politicians to make any changes to laws that concern free speech is always an ordeal because they like to use our ridiculous English-based libel laws to suppress unflattering news about themselves – likewise the laws covering name suppression and contempt of court. This move by Judge Harvey puts the issue right in the public arena, where it belongs. It’s unfortunate that such a move is necessary to illustrate the legal grey area raised by the Internet, but the outcome may be positive.

  3. D-man, good call, interesting observations,

  4. Imogen says:

    “Newspaper articles could also be cut out and saved. The ruling also relied on the assumption that people would actually seek out information if the case came to trial.” (Proff. Optican in NZ Herald story)


    We can also tape the news and we can watch TVNZ at tvnzondemand.co.nz (is that publishing on the internet?) and MySky and and and…

    A while ago I was talking to Steven Price about this issue with regards to twitter. This is exactly the scenario he foresaw unfolding.

    I went back to him about it but wile he’d seen it coming he didn’t really know what it meant.

    I’m sure for the Herald and Stuff – for whom such stories (getting news information out there as soon as possible) are their bread and butter these developments have got to be a worry…

  5. (Full disclosure – I work for an online media company)

    I hadn’t read or listened to any of the news reports, but by searching Twitter for ‘New Zealand’, ‘judge’ and ‘name suppression’ I was able to very quickly find links to numerous discussions about what this means for the internet, and because they are hosted overseas, naming the alleged perpetrators.

    I can see what the judge was trying to do, but despite being technologically aware (from what I’ve read) he seems to be a little behind the times.

    Interestingly, the names appeared in the online digital replica of The Herald but, presumably because it’s content isn’t indexed by search engines, there’s little chance of a link appearing in Google (or your search engine of choice).

    It’s clear to me the judge is fighting a losing battle – as soon as the person is named in print or over the airwaves the names will be on the internet and available should anyone care to look.

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