Media Release: Scandalising the court is an attack on freedom of expression
After the Select Committee removed it in response to submissions, the government has surprised everyone by reintroducing the crime of "scandalising the court" in the now renamed Contempt of Court Bill.
The Bill makes it an offence to undermine public confidence in the judiciary or the courts by publishing false statements, punishable by up to 6 months in jail or a fine of up to $25,000 ($100.000 for a body corporate).
"Criminalising attacks on the court is contrary to our right to freedom of expression. People should be free to criticise the courts without fearing that a judge will decide that their criticism is 'fake news' and send them off to jail," says Thomas Beagle, Chairperson of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties.
"We wouldn't accept this law for our other institutions and we shouldn't accept it for judges and the courts."
"And if there really is a concern about people spreading falsehoods, the courts can help correct the problem by doing a better job of publishing accurate information about their doings online."
The Council believes these clauses should be, once again, removed from the Bill before it is passed by Parliament. Our freedom of expression is more important than adding this dubious protection for judges and the courts.
The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties is a watchdog for rights and freedoms in New Zealand. The Council works through education and advocacy to promote a rights-based society and prevent the erosion of civil liberties by government or any other parties. It is a voluntary not-for-profit organisation.
NZ Council for Civil Liberties
Contempt of Court Bill – http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/member/2018/0039/latest/whole.html