Third party challenges to trial publicity

When may a third party obtain suppression of publication of the name of an accused? In Re S (a child) [2004] UKHL 47 (28 October 2004) the legal representative of a child sought to protect him from publicity that would arise from his mother’s trial on a charge of murdering his brother. The first notable feature of the case is that it illustrates the process of balancing competing rights. These rights, pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), are the right to privacy (Art 8) and the right to freedom of information (Art 10).

The House of Lords was careful to emphasise that the circumstances of each case have to be considered. Lord Steyn delivered the speech with which the other Law Lords agreed. He set out the method in para 17:

“… First, neither article has as such precedence over the other. Secondly, where the values under the two articles are in conflict, an intense focus on the comparative importance of the specific rights being claimed in the individual case is necessary. Thirdly, the justifications for interfering with or restricting each right must be taken into account. Finally, the proportionality test must be applied to each. For convenience I will call this the ultimate balancing test. This is how I will approach the present case.”

Following that approach, the prevailing right was held to be the Art 10 right to information, and the injunction sought against publication was refused.

The second notable aspect of this case is what it says about the common law inherent jurisdiction of the court to prohibit publication. It was held (para 23) that the jurisdiction to prevent publication is now derived from Convention rights, and as far as existence and scope of the power is concerned, the prior case law on inherent jurisdiction need no longer be considered. However, that case law remains relevant in illustrating the balancing process, which developed with acknowledgement of European jurisprudence even before October 2000 (when the Human Rights Act 1998[UK] – “the UK Act” – came into force).

We may well wonder whether this suggests, by analogy, anything for New Zealand law. The UK Act, s 3, requires domestic courts to give effect to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights so far as it is possible to do so. This is a clear indication that Strasbourg decisions, rather than the prior common law, should henceforth be the guide to the interpretation of Convention Rights.

By contrast, in New Zealand, NZBORA 1990 affirms and promotes the rights set out in it, and it affirms New Zealand’s commitment to the ICCPR. There is no provision requiring foreign court decisions to be followed. The right to freedom of information is contained in NZBORA, s 14, but the right to privacy, relied on in Re S (a child), is not. It is preserved at common law by virtue of s 28, which continues existing rights and freedoms notwithstanding their omission from NZBORA. Such inherent jurisdiction as there is, therefore, should remain alive, and indeed may draw upon the balancing process described in Re S (a child).

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