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Suppression unsuppressed

By Steven | June 21, 2008

Just how much suppressing are the courts doing? In the past it’s been hard to tell, because statistics have been pretty patchy. But in an admirably prompt response to my request for some statistical information, the Ministry of Justice compiled some data for me from their records.

Name suppression is the perennial hot issue. Is permanent name suppression given out like lollies? In short: no. Out of about 150,000 criminal cases each year, there are about 730 final name suppressions in the District Court and about 35 in the High Court. There are about three times as many interim name suppression orders (five times as many in the High Court), but these are less significant since the media can eventually report them.

The numbers have been fairly constant over the past five years during which these statistics have been recorded.

In general, this doesn’t include the suppression that arises by operation of the law (for child witnesses and victims of sex offences, for example) though it’s possible that sometimes a judge will make a formal order to underscore the importance of the suppression. In addition, final orders may be made after interim ones expire, so there’s some effective double-counting there. Consequently, there probably aren’t as many different discretionary name suppressions as the above figures suggest.

Another caveat: it’s not clear that these records pick up all the suppression orders made. It seems likely that most of them are captured, though.

It’s not always (or not only) names that get suppressed. Sometimes facts (such as past convictions or contested evidence) can be suppressed, too. The courts have a discretion to suppress evidence or submissions. How often is that exercised?  Not too often. About 440 times a year, overwhelmingly in the District Court. Only about a 100 of these each year are permanent.

The Ministry even managed to dig up some stats about civil cases. Name suppression has been ordered in 23 DC cases and 87 HC cases in the past 5 years. There’s no break-down of interim and permanent orders, and no explanation of the circumstances of such orders, so they’re a bit difficult to analyse. The stats also list all of two cases in which facts have been suppressed in the last five years.

I’m a bit sceptical about the civil figures, since they don’t include the one case that I know about – the suppression orders relating to various factual matters (as well as the plaintiff’s name) in the High Court litigation over Anne Hunt’s book. Still, it does suggest that such orders are probably pretty rare, which is some comfort.

Topics: Name suppression, Suppression orders | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Suppression unsuppressed”

  1. avaiki news agency Says:
    June 26th, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Some comfort?

    Beg to differ bro! Just this morning comes news that the courts have suppressed eight hours of video featuring an attack on a man with batons and pepper spray by four cops – all found not guilty.

    Concerns I have centre on the severity of the cases involved, not how many are suppressed – the quality of the case rather than the quantity.

    For comparison, people in New Zealand make millions of of car trips a year but only a few hundred die, and a few thousand are injured. Should we then declare that road accidents are fairly rare? From which we should draw comfort?

    If we were to extrapolate suppression orders and compare percentages, the suppression rate would represent utter carnage on the roads.

    Good on Justice for being transparent, tho, I wonder, if the fact that the FOI request came from the media-law-journal had anything to do with their alacrity!

  2. Geeks view at The Standard 2.01 Says:
    June 28th, 2008 at 10:43 am

    […] Media Law Journal had a good post on Suppression unsuppressed about the use of final suppression orders. It looks like these are less common than you’d […]

  3. Whale(b)oil Slater hooked? « Ethical Martini Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    […] probably the vast bulk of them – ie they’re not permanent suppression orders. Only about 700 a year are permanent). The Commission conveniently put that information in Chapter 1 of its report. [Fact […]

  4. Suppression? Not on the offenders’ terms « LudditeJourno Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    […] I agree with Whale Oil’s point that suppression orders are social engineering.  Only about 730 criminal cases of a possible 150,000 get name suppression each year.  No crime for Mr Pakeha Middle Class business man.  No crime for Mr Politician, or Mr […]

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