12 Oct 2020

NZ First Foundation: media companies lodge urgent appeal over name suppression

6:19 pm on 12 October 2020

Media outlets are seeking to urgently appeal a court decision granting the pair charged over New Zealand First Foundation donations name suppression.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

The High Court at Auckland. Photo: justice.govt.nz

The Serious Fraud Office has charged two people with obtaining by deception after its investigation into the foundation and its handling of donations.

The defendants are accused of obtaining more than $700,000 between 2015 and 2020, which they then used to pay expenses of the New Zealand First party.

Last week RNZ, Stuff, NZME and TVNZ challenged an interim name suppression order protecting the identities of the accused in the case.

Media lawyer Robert Stewart argued there was compelling public interest in knowing who the defendants were, given the general election is imminent.

"If the public interest in this case doesn't outweigh the question of hardship to the defendant in this case, when will it?

"It's difficult to see a more favourable or strong case in this instance, given the circumstances we find ourselves in with the election some eight or nine days away."

The defendant's lawyer disagreed and told the court name suppression should be dealt with at the first official court hearing, scheduled 29 October.

Judge Peter Winter ruled in the defendants' favour, finding it "in the interests of justice" name suppression for both defendants continue until that first hearing.

In his decision, he said the publication of one of the defendant's names would result in them being "unfairly vilified" in the minds of potential jurors at any criminal trial.

He went further in his judgment to speak to potential political ramifications if the pair were to be named publicly ahead of the general election.

"The release of [the defendant's] name at this time may inform potential voters for the New Zealand First Party who have not already cast their vote.

"Those who have already done so, would then have been deprived of the names of the two persons charged and the media commentary that will be associated with it.

"Publication of [the defendant's] name at this stage at least six days into the advanced voting period, may unfairly settle those who already case their vote as much as it informs those who have not."

Judge Winter also said any identifying the second defendant would identify the first defendant through "an easy process of deduction".

He granted both defendants name suppression until their first official appearance at the North Shore District Court on 29 October.

Today, Stewart filed an urgent notice of appeal to the High Court setting out the grounds for an appeal and requesting an urgent hearing tomorrow.

An appeal date and time has not yet been set.