15 Oct 2020

Bid to lift name suppression in NZ First Foundation case fails

4:30 pm on 15 October 2020

The media's latest bid to name the accused in the New Zealand First Foundation court case has failed.

09082016. Photo Rebekah Parsons-King. Pike River families want mine's CEO to face charges. Court of Appeal Wellington.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Court of Appeal has declined to grant leave to appeal a name suppression order protecting their identities.

This latest development brings the media's fight to name the pair ahead of the general election to an end.

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

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

RNZ, Stuff, NZME and TVNZ have challenged a name suppression order protecting their identities that was granted after a series of secret/late notice court hearings the media was not present for.

In both the district and high courts, media lawyer Robert Stewart argued there was compelling public interest in naming the accused before the election.

He also submitted any secrecy around their identities impinged on the public's right to be fully informed before they case their votes.

The media challenged the order in both the district and high courts - failing in both jurisdictions - before seeking leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal today.

In a decision released this afternoon, Court of Appeal president Justice Kós noted tomorrow is the eve of the general election and an unprecedented level of advance voting had already occurred.

He said he was not persuaded sharing additional information with only some of those voting justified a departure from due process in the courts, adding the defendants' fair trial rights were "the primary interests" he had to consider.

"Any decision by this Court is likely to be a final determination. It should not be undertaken with an undue haste, particularly when the appeal grounds are not strong and the public interest in departure from due process is so limited.

"Attempting to shoehorn the hearing into the very limited time available over the next 24 hours will cause significant actual and potential prejudice to the defendants."

Justice Kós declined to grant leave, citing the latin legal phrase 'Fiat justitia ruat caelum'.

"Justice must take its normal course, even in abnormal times," the end of the decision read.

The decision brings the media's fight to name the accused before the election to an end.

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