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

August 26, 2008

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.