25 Jun 2020

Name suppression argued in Young Labour camp case

4:17 pm on 25 June 2020

The man at the centre of the Young Labour summer camp scandal will be unfairly vilified as a sexual predator if publicly identified, his lawyer has argued.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The now-22-year-old stood trial last September accused of indecently assaulting four teenagers, two males and two females, at a camp party near Waihi in early 2018.

He reached a plea deal with prosecutors mid-trial; admitting two charges of common assault against the two males while the Crown withdrew the indecent assault charges.

The young man was eventually discharged without conviction and has now taken his fight for permanent name suppression to the second-highest court in the country.

His appeal was heard by Justice Gilbert, Justice Ellis and Justice Katz in the Court of Appeal this afternoon.

Defence lawyer Emma Priest argued Justice Whata, who heard the man's High Court appeal, erred in finding the extreme hardship publication would bring on the young man was a natural consequence of the high-profile nature of the case.

She said the High Court had failed to take into account "highly disproportionate" media coverage of the case as a result of preliminary sexual allegations.

"A miscarriage of justice will occur if the appellant is not granted name suppression because it will have the effect of significantly undermining his acquittals," Priest said.

She said if the young man was to be identified, his name would be permanently linked to allegations of sexual assault online despite the indecent assault charges being withdrawn.

"The impact of publication on [my client] on a professionally and personally will be grossly disproportionate given the extensive media publication on the basis that this is sexual offending."

Priest also questioned the basis of the public interest in the case, adding Justice Whata's acknowledgement that 2020 was an election year had reaffirmed the "political link" to the case.

"It demonstrates the fact that this goes well beyond anything ever contemplated in the ordinary course of criminal proceedings."

Crown prosecutor Zannah Johnstone told the court the fact the indecent assault charges were limited to allegations had been fairly reported by mainstream media.

"The fact of reporting of allegations being made of somebody is not, in and of itself, vilification. If it was, then interim name suppression should always be ordered."

Johnstone said permanent suppressions could also have an impact on public perception of transparency in the courts.

She denied Justice Gilbert's suggestion the man's name did not necessarily provide context to the case, given the allegations themselves were fully reported.

"It does impact on the public's perception... the public are left to speculate on who this person might be and their connection to the Labour Party. That may lead to more inaccuracy than the truth being published," Johnstone replied.

In the High Court in February, Priest argued the man had been the subject of an "intense and negatively toned" media frenzy that vilified and tainted his character beyond repair.

She said he continued to be mischaracterised as a sexual offender, members of the public labelling him as the "Labour Youth Camp pervert" on social media, despite the indecent assault charges being withdrawn.

In his decision, Justice Whata said the man would likely become a target for "unfair vitriol and vilification as a sexual offender" if identified.

However, he found there continued to be legitimate interest in the man's name because of his connection to Young Labour.

"Where the man did not sexually offend, his actions still legitimately attract public scrutiny, including from within his own community and prospective employers.

"In addition, the evident political dimension to the coverage and corresponding public interest, strongly favours transparency to maintain confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial process."

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision.

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