Suppression Orders in Criminal Matters

25 Nov 2015 // Noah Redmond

People who have been charged with a criminal offence often ask us if they can have their name suppressed from publication.  Understandably they do not want the wider public to know that they are facing ciminal charges as this can often result in embarrassment for both them and their friends and family.

The courts are reluctant to grant suppression orders and parliament has determined that they should only grant them in certain circumstances.

One of the best ways to ensure that justice is done is to ensure that it is carried out in an open manner so that it may be assessed by the public has having been done.

Because of the need for open justice, parliament has determined that suppression orders may only be granted by a court for two reasons:

  1. The prevent prejudice to the Administration of Justice; and
  2. To prevent hadship to a witness, potential witness, a child or a victim of an offence.

There are also instances where a suppression order will be granted automatically, these include:

  • Youths charged with offences;
  • Victims of sexual offences; and
  • Those charged with sexual offences, until it is determined that there is enough evidence for them to face a trial.

Prevention of Prejudice to the Administration of Justice.

Whilst one of the best ways to ensure that justice is done is for it to be open, the courts and parliament have recognised that sometimes information becoming available to the general public can prejudice someone's right to a fair trial.

An example of where this sort of suppression order may be granted is where there are still ongoing investigations.  Police will often conduct identification parades by showing a witness a series of photographs, one of which is of the person they suspect to have committed the offence.  In these circumstnaces the court may grant a suppression order preventing publication of anything which may tend to identify the accused.  They do this because if the accused's identity becomes known to the general public the witness may see their image and this would contaminate the identification parade.

These sorts of suppression order are more often granted at the intial stages of proceedings while the investigations are still ongoing, but lifted at a later date once the matter has progressed.

Prevention of undue hardship to a witness, potential witness, victim or child

Witnesses and victims are less likely to come forward to police and report crimes or otherwise cooperate with police if they are concerned that by doing so they may receive unwanted media attention or be otherwise embarrassed.  The court therefore has the power to order suppression of their identities.

Children can often be dragged into the criminal justice system through no fault of their own.  Where a child's parent has been charged with a particular offence that might cause undue hardship to the child, then the court can suppress the parent's identity in order to protect the child.

The courts have, however, recognised that any involvement in the criminal justice system is likely to result in some hardship.  It is only where the court considers that the hardship is undue that it can grant the suppression order.

Youths Facing Criminal Charges

The identity of persons who have been charged with offences while under the age of 18 are automatically suppressed from publication.  This recognises that youths are not to be treated in the same way as adults when facing charges as they have often not yet developed the maturity to understand the full consequences of their actions.

Those Charged with Sexual Offences

The idenity of a person charged with a sexual offence cannot be published until they are either found guilty, plead guilty or the court has ordered that they stand trial for the alleged offending.  This is because some allegations of offending have a stigma attached to them even when it is only an allegation being made without further evidence.  The identity of people charged with sexual ofences is therefore suppressed until the court has determined that there is sufficient futher evidence for the person to face trial.

Victims of Sexual Offending

Parliament has determined that the fact that a person has been the victim of a sexual offence should only be known, so far as is possible, to the people that the person consents to knowing; and not to the general public at large.

The accussed in a Criminal Trial

There is no law that allows the suppression of the identity of an accused facing a criminal charge except for those stated above.  While an accused is innocent until proven guilty and may be embarrassed by the publication of their identity, Parliament has determined that the interests of justice are best served by justice being open.

The best way to ensure that a trial is fair is for the public to be able to see whether it is fair or not.