New Zealand district court Judge David Harvey has ruled that the names of two young men, aged 21 and 23, charged with the recent murder of a 14 year old boy, are not to be published on the Internet.
Judge Harvey permitted the publication of their names and images on television news bulletins and in newspapers. He was reported to have said that he was “concerned about someone Googling someone's name and being able to access it later”, and was “concerned about the viral effect of digital publication”. This unusual and unprecedented decision is now before the New Zealand Law Commission.
Judge Harvey recently published a text book on law and the Internet entitled, Internet.law.nz, so the assumption is that he knows a thing or two about the issues involved here. Presumably he feels that publishing the names of those accused of murder on the Internet would be to the detriment of a fair trial.
Already there is much information widely spread over the Internet about this case. It must be very difficult for any crime release report about an impending trial not to cause people to jump to conclusions. For this and other reasons it’s often difficult for a jury to be assembled of people who do not know significant details about a case like this.
New Zealand law upholds that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. The ethical and humanitarian issues at play here are not slight. They pose interesting questions about the possible prejudicial use of the Internet in connection with an impending trial, while challenging the almost inevitable, but unlawful use of that medium for a purpose that the order prohibits.
Clearly, Judge Harvey’s decision has the potential to set a precedent for excluding the use of the Internet for publishing information about crime that otherwise might be distributed legally using any other publishing means.