Law changes should be based on reality rather than public perception of problems, the New Zealand Law Society says in light of government proposals to change suppression legislation.
Justice Minister Simon Power yesterday announced changes that would see tougher penalties and more protection for children. He also said that being famous was not a good enough reason to be granted name suppression and one set of rules was needed for everyone to ensure public confidence in the justice system.
Society president Jonathan Temm agreed one group of people should not treated differently from others.
However, name suppression "isn't granted to people because they are famous," he told Radio New Zealand.
"It's granted to them because their circumstances are such that unless the allegation is established and a conviction entered then the consequences for them may be far more severe.
"People who are prominent in the community usually have a lot more to lose as they face criminal allegations."
He said the Tony Veitch case -- the television presenter was eventually convicted for assaulting his former partner – got considerable media coverage.
"The media attention is driven not so much by fourth estate principles but really around sensationalism and circulation."
Such attention could affect trials.
"I am just anxious that we don't sort of just charge off in a direction because there is some prominence to a couple of cases."
Every year there were thousands of cases where no suppression was granted.
"There seems to be a certain prominence given to some issues because in the public domain there is a perception about them and theses things are not always actually so in fact. That's the concern the society has."
He raised the government abolishing the provocation defence after it was used in a high-profile murder case and Mr Power's pledge to either reform or repeal the "claim of right" defence, successfully used by the defendants in the Waihopai spy base sabotage case.
"Hard cases make bad law," Mr Temm said.
New Zealand's Media Freedom Committee welcomed the proposals to tighten the criteria for name suppression, but urged caution over the move to suppress automatically the names of child victims of crime.
Under the proposals, suppression would only be allowed:-
* when there was a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial;
* when publication would identify another person, such as a victim, whose name is suppressed;
* when publication would endanger a person's safety;
* when publication would cast suspicion on other people that may result in undue hardship;
* to prevent extreme hardship to the accused or people connected to the accused;
* where publication would imperil investigations.