4 Dec 2020

NZ First Foundation defendants lose right to name suppression

2:00 pm on 4 December 2020

The two people charged over the handling of donations to the New Zealand First Foundation have lost a legal bid to keep their names secret.

North Shore District Court.

North Shore District Court. Photo: Google Maps

RNZ, however, cannot reveal their identities for at least another 10 days in case the decision is appealed.

The individuals were charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) with "obtaining by deception" several weeks before this year's election.

At the time, the SFO confirmed neither of the accused were ministers, sitting MPs, candidates, staffers or current members of NZ First.

Since then, one of the defendants has fought to keep their name out of the public arena, arguing at North Shore District Court last month that the case had been "politicised" and they would face "trial by media".

Today, Judge Deidre Orchard rejected the argument.

"In my view the subject matter is inherently political. It is bound to attract considerable media attention and that attention is legitimate."

Judge Orchard said she was not convinced that the media interest would pose any risk to a fair trial.

"The New Zealand courts have dealt with cases where there has been extensive, and, in some cases, very damaging pre-trial publicity on a regular basis and successfully," the ruling said.

"In my experience, juries are entirely capable of putting aside such reports and any feelings of prejudice they may have aroused and focusing on the evidence."

Judge Orchard also ruled the accused had "failed to demonstrate that publication will lead to extreme hardship".

As such, she dismissed the application, but maintained the current suppression until 14 December "or until such time as as an appeal is filed and dealt with by the High Court".

The defendants are accused of using a "fraudulent device, trick or stratagem" to secure more than $700,000 between 2015 and 2020, which was then used to pay expenses for the NZ First party.

They have pleaded not guilty and will next appear in court for a case-review hearing on 26 January.

Prior to the election, RNZ, Stuff, NZME, TVNZ and Mediaworks unsuccessfully challenged a suppression order protecting the pair's identities, arguing the public had a right to know who they were before the polls closed.

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