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Wha…?

By Steven | April 7, 2013

I confess I’m entirely befuddled by the Dominion Post’s front-page lead on Saturday, “Prosecution for breaching paedophile’s rights”. Can someone help me out here?

Isn’t the story conflating the Commission with the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, an independent office within the HRC? But why is the Office of Human Rights Proceedings bringing a “prosecution”? Does the DomPost mean a claim before the Human Rights Review Tribunal (it seems so, since it mentions the Tribunal later on)? That’s not a prosecution, which is a criminal action.

Or is it a charge that the Sensible Sentencing Trust has breached name suppression? Now, that would be a criminal prosecution, but why isn’t it being brought by the police?

If it’s a Human Rights Proceedings Office case, it sounds like a Privacy Act claim, and not a charge for breach of name suppression at all (some of the language in the story suggests it’s about the Privacy Act, though the Act gets barely a mention in the story). That would also suggest that the Privacy Commissioner has already been involved and either refused to uphold the complaint or couldn’t reach a settlement with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. That would be interesting to know.

The story suggests that the Office of Human Rights Proceedings is bringing a claim against the Sensible Sentencing Trust for posting the name and details of a man who has been convicted of child sex offences, and who may have had name suppression:

The commission says this breaches his privacy because the trust does not mention that he has name suppression.

Why would it be a breach of someone’s privacy merely not to mention that he has a name suppression order? It may be a breach of suppression laws to publish his name. It may be a breach of the Privacy Act to publish his details. But neither claim revolves around a failure to mention a suppression order. They may be about a failure to respect it.

The story suggests the OHRC is concerned that without the suppression information the publication isn’t accurate (that is, it breaches the Information Privacy Principle that information be checked for accuracy before publication). That seems a bit odd to me. I’m not sure how this omission – if that’s what it is – renders the rest of the website information inaccurate or why it’s that omission that has caused any harm.

The story suggests that perhaps there may never have been a suppression order. Did anyone ask whether suppression may have arisen by operation of the law, which automatically protects child victims and witnesses in sex cases and therefore might have the effect of protecting the convicted man, because he’s a “relative” so that naming him may inevitably give away their identity? (I don’t know the details here, but it seems an obvious question to ask).

My best guess is that the Office of Human Rights Proceedings is bringing a civil claim on behalf of a convicted sex offender against the Sensible Sentencing Trust for unlawfully disclosing personal information about his convictions on its website or for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that its information was accurate, relevant, up-to-date and complete, and thereby causing him harm, and also for refusing him access to information it holds about him. The name suppression (if it exists) seems to be being used to support the claim that the publication was improper, but isn’t the basis of the claim.

If so, that looks like it might raise some interesting issues. But I don’t know if it is so.  

Topics: Media ethics, Name suppression, Privacy Act | 49 Comments »

49 Responses to “Wha…?”

  1. ross Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    “or for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that its information was accurate, relevant, up-to-date and complete, and thereby causing him harm”

    Presumably the person concerned would have to show how he has been harmed. You seem to be suggesting that harm is automatic.

  2. Steven Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I don’t know why you would think that, Ross, when I have written shortly before that:

    “That seems a bit odd to me. I’m not sure how this omission – if that’s what it is – renders the rest of the website information inaccurate or why it’s that omission that has caused any harm.”

  3. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    April 15th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Or is it a charge that the Sensible Sentencing Trust has breached name suppression? Now, that would be a criminal prosecution, but why isn’t it being brought by the police?

    Because the suppression order was made under the Criminal Justice Act, and it is no longer a criminal offence to breach such orders. Parliament repealed that offence as at 5 March 2012, and has not providing appropriate transitional provisions that would, for example, deem a CJA suppression to have been made under the Criminal Procedure Act.

    If any publication in breach of a CJA suppression order occurred prior to 5 March 2012, it could still be pursued, but such a prosecution is now time-barred, the matter being purely summary, and time-limited to six months.

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