Name suppression is a topical issue usually in relation to high profile criminal cases.  But what about some of the other Courts such as the Family Court, Youth Court, Civil Courts, Traffic Court or the Employment Relations authority?  Lawyer Rachel Amies discusses this issue.

Going to Court is not only an unusual and uninviting experience for many people, but it can also be embarrassing.  This feeling occurs when people are required to attend many types of Courts, including the Criminal Court, Traffic Court and Civil Courts, the Employment Relations Authority, the Family Court and the Youth Court.  Matters can be considerably worsened when your name and details feature in the news media.

A question often asked of lawyers is whether their client’s name can be suppressed – that is, “Will my name be in the newspaper?”  A big concern is, of course, having your name widely published in the media and then getting acquitted of the charges – the fact that you were acquitted does not usually prevent the stigma due to the media coverage.

Different Courts have different rules about whether a person’s name should be published or whether that person’s name can be suppressed.

We usually hear most about the Criminal Courts.  It is possible to obtain name suppression, but it can be very difficult to do so.  In some cases it is actually more sensible to not even apply.  This is due to the attention one will receive when an application is made – the media will pay more attention once they hear you advise the Court that you seek name suppression.

If an application is made the Court must take into account the views of the victim of the offence (or the victim’s legal guardian or parent).  Matters taken into account are the presumption of innocence, the risk of irrevocable harm (even if the accused is later acquitted), the risk of serious harm to family members and other people associated with the accused, and the risk that a fair trial could be affected by public pressure and the personal stress of identification prior to a verdict.

In respect of Traffic Court matters, name suppression will not be granted – particularly in cases of drunk driving charges or careless/dangerous driving causing injury or death.  This is because there is a public policy issue in respect of traffic matters – mainly the issue of public safety.

The Employment Relations Authority can also grant name suppression or prohibit publication of any details of a hearing in front of them.

The Youth Court is closed to the public, as young offenders should be sheltered from the glare of media publicity.

However, if a young offender is required to attend the District Court or High Court, he or she will be treated like an adult although youths are more likely to be given a special approach for two reasons – firstly children are more vulnerable to stress during legal proceedings (media publicity is likely to add to that stress) and secondly children are still in their formative years and usually have a better chance of rehabilitating (public identification may interfere with rehabilitation).

The Family Court treats name suppression differently because of the nature of what happens in that Court.

Reports of Family Court proceedings can be made public provided they don’t include names or facts that would lead to the identification of the parties or the child(ren) or any witness involved.

In the Civil Court, it is possible to obtain suppression of name.  The question asked in this instance is normally, “Is it proper to allow name suppression having regard to the interests of any person and to the public interest?”

If name suppression is an issue for you or your family it is crucial that you seek legal advice well in advance of any Court appearance.