New Zealand Police v Lawrence  NZDC 5003
Published 13 March 2019
Media application to access court file — general rights of access — open justice — Television New Zealand v Rogers  2 NZLR 277 — TVWorks NZ Ltd v Parsons  NZAR 198 — Television New Zealand v Knox  NZDC 3329 — Criminal Procedure Rules 2012, r 6.8 — District Court (Access to Court Documents) Rules 2017, rr 8(2), 8(3), 11 ,12 & 13.
The defendant had previously faced trial over a traffic accident. The case was dismissed in a judgment dated 26 February 2018.
The current case concerned an application by Mediaworks to access the defendant's court file, including the summary of facts, the judgment from the trial, and a video of dashcam footage that was shown during the trial. Mediaworks argued that to release the file was in the public interest. The defendant opposed the release of all documentation, arguing that to do so would jeopardise his reputation and his right to privacy.
Rule 8 of the District Court (Access to Court Documents) Rules provides a general right of access to certain documents used in criminal proceedings. Rule 11 of the District Court (Access to Court Documents) Rules provides for requests for access to court documents that are not covered by rule 8, and rule 12 sets out matters for judges to consider when determining requests for access.
The rule of general access applied to the charging documents and the judgment of 26 February. Given the importance of the principle of open justice, the court should be slow to find exceptions to general access, and potential damage to the defendant's reputation was not a sufficient reason.
The decision whether or not to release the summary of facts, witness statements and dashcam footage centred on balancing the principle of open justice against the defendant's and victim's rights to privacy. The Supreme Court decision in TVNZ v Rogers established that access to documents should be granted unless there is a good reason for withholding them. It was found that there was a good reason to withhold the dashcam footage as it could risk revictimising the victim of the traffic accident. However access was granted to the statements of the complainants and witnesses. The principles of open justice and the public interest in the behaviour of tourist drivers overrode the defendant's concerns for his reputation, especially as he had been acquitted.
Judgment Date: 16 March 2018.