In which our intrepid hero decides freedom of speech and honest decency require - require, no less - him to tell the world the identity of a 13-year old alleged victim of sexual assault.

It's hard to know what to do about Cameron Slater (aka "Whaleoil"). If you ignore him, don't you simply let him get away with acting like a complete and utter tool? But if you pay attention to his actions, don't you help feed the psuedo-messianic delusions that drive them? So here's an attempt at a middle road: one final posting on his "No More Name Suppression!" jihad, but without any links to his blogsite. If you want to see first hand what he's been up to, visit Google. Beyond this, I'll let the police decide how much, and what form of, attention Mr Slater should get.

A quick recap. Mr Slater doesn't like name suppression being given by the courts to those accused of crimes. Fair enough - there's a number of people uncomfortable with the extent and consistency of this practice, which is why the Law Commission has issued a lengthy and considered report calling for a range of legislative changes in the area.

However, Mr Slater isn't prepared to allow the process of legislative reform take its course. You see, he already knows what needs done, and knows that he is just the person to bring about these needed changes. So he's started "outing" the names of individuals where these have been suppressed by the courts, on the basis that people want to know them and so he'll tell them. And anyway, why should criminal scum get to hide from the righteous wrath of the mobilised mob?

How very noble. Unfortunately, in two of the three cases Mr Slater has chosen, the name suppression orders were handed out not to save the accused from any embarrasment, but rather to protect the identity of victims of alleged sexual offending. So what Mr Slater has done is decide that he knows better than anyone else that the world's "right to know" trumps the privacy of these victims.  And when I say "anyone else", I mean the elected Parliament of New Zealand, which decided such protective orders for victims of sexual offending should be all but mandatory. As well as the victims themselves, who can always ask the judge to lift the order if they want the world to know the accused's identity (and thus theirs). As well as the judge who gets to hear considered argument from both sides, and make an informed decision on whether to make an order after taking the full range of factors into account.

But why should the opinions or beliefs of such minnows be of interest to a mighty Whale? Unfortunately, this then raises a rather tricky question: just who is this Mr Slater to be making judgment calls on which names to out and which not to? I don't want to get overly personal here, but this is how one of his friends, Cathy Odgers of the "Cactus Kate" blog, describes Mr Slater:

He is mental. I mean this in a loving caring way to his friends, but to his foe he shows as much hatred as he does love for his friends. Whaleoil loves opposition, he loves conflict and more importantly will never back down. ... His actions are consistent with a mix of depression, medication and frontal lobe disfunction. There is no point in reasoning with him for after his depression and the medication he is on, there is limited reasoning.

David Farrar of Kiwiblog fully concurs with this description. And note again that these are his friends speaking here.

Now, I get what they are saying. Mental illness often causes individuals to act in ways that are poorly reasoned and ill advisable, and that helps to explain why Mr Slater has chosen the path he has. But desn't this explanation for his actions raise serious problems with their desirability? If Mr Slater is "mental", to use Ms Odger's chosen term, and possesses only limited reasoning skills, then do we really want him taking it upon himself to second guess the entire legal process with regard to whose name will remain suppressed and whose will not? Is that a basis we can found our justice system on - the rules will be those that the person most prepared to push the envelope decides ought to be in place, even if that envelope pushing is the result of seriously disordered thinking?

I think not. So, with all due respect to Mr Slater and his enablers in the blogosphere, I fervently hope the police and courts come down on his actions like a ton of bricks. And there I'll leave the matter to rest.

Update: Anyone interested in a full, considered and temperate discussion of the issues involved in name suppression and Mr Slater's actions should read Steven Price's blog posting here.

Comments (18)

by Adolf Fiinkensein on January 13, 2010
Adolf Fiinkensein

To use old fashioned parlance, 'methinks your slips are showing' Mr Geddes.

I know Cameron Slater reasonably well, I think.  I certainly do not agree with everything he does or says but I think here you misconstrue the use of the word 'mental.'  Cameron is a pretty aggressive and fearless character but a nutter? Definitely not. It is well known publicly Cameron has suffered from depression and may well still do.  That's all.

I'm in the life insurance business and I can assure you a very large proportion of the population has suffered from or still suffers from depression.  Many more probably do but remain undiagnosed. That does not make them 'mental' in the somewhat jocular sense intimated by Cactus.  For me, this use of the word implies a person who is OTT, lives on the edge, a risk taker, extrovert, controversial etc etc.  None of these things makes a person mentally deranged or demented.

I thought your closing remarks quite deplorable for a man of letters and the law.

"I fervently hope the police and courts come down on his actions like a ton of bricks."

Where is your equally trenchant criticism of The Herald whose commercial need is far greater than that of Mr Slater and whose plays on words this week were a far greater breach than anythng of which Mr Slater might be accused?

BTW, why don't your commenters ask him how much money he makes from his blog instead of publishing unfounded and likely defamatory insinuation here?  They might get a surprise.

 

by Bruce Thorpe on January 13, 2010
Bruce Thorpe

It is a strange world when I find myself on the same side as Messrs Finkelstein and Slater.

Mr Slater is a strange and to most of us a rather unpleasant person,with political and social views I can rarely suppor.

However, to suggest his blog topics are tinged with such motives as self promotion, sit rather badly in a blog which has in recent weeks borrowed the notoriety  of Hone Harawira, the suppressed entertainer story and two shots at Whaleoil.

For a chap who thinks these things should be left to judicial process, there has been a fairly constant assumption in this column that they are of public interest and worth another round of public dialogue.

The notion that victims should be "protected" by automatic suppression of offenders' identities might well be the current law, but it has the effect of supporting the notion that victims of such offences have reasons for shame.

People out on bail pending trial should not be granted name suppression.

There is some evidence in recent court cases that those expecting to be deprived of their freedom and publicly exposed oftencan be motivated to use this "borrowed time" to offend more recklessly. It is appropriate that the community has at least some warning of the situation.

 

by Red Tussock on January 13, 2010
Red Tussock

"...don't you help feed the psuedo-messianic delusions...",

You mean Andrew there was is another god,  but not the real deal?. Are you proposing that you are he.? Does this mean that we must all obtain a reading list from the intelligensia of the Journalism world?.

One thing I find absolutely absorbing is bearing witness to the chagrin that governments, publishers, and journalists have with "The Internets" ability to outwit, and outmanoeuvre their attempts at leading public opinion.To own the news in other words.

The internet was designed in a node like manner to ensure that no amount of meddling would result in information not getting to the intended recipient. Cameron Slater like him or not, has by using the internet made contact with the intended recipients. To read that the police, government, are monitoring the internet, is comical in my view. The Australian Governments filter plans have suddenly taken a backward step, after somebody other than some fawning beuracrat finally got the message through that it is not possible without throttling the bandwidth down to the pace of a mating turtle.

Are we now to see the bleeding hearts in NZ propose some sort of thought control over us all?.

by Andrew Geddis on January 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Adolf,

As I have previously stated, I don't know Mr Slater. So my assessment of him and his behaviour is based solely on what he posts on his blog, what he says to the media, and what his friends say about him. But when he engages in a poorly thought out campaign on his blogsite that impacts on the lives of other people in a pretty major way, and two of his friends say his depressive illness and the medication he takes for it have strongly affected his reasoning capabilities (to use shorthand, he is "mental" in the sense that "there is limited reasoning", not "deranged or demented"), I think it worth pointing out the connection. Why? Because it shines a quite important light on whether it is a good idea to put the decision on whether or not to reveal the name of accused persons (and thus alleged victims) in his hands. No more and no less than that - it says nothing about him as a person or anything else he may choose to write on his blog. However, this present issue is a bit more serious in terms of its potential conseqences than some feud with a socialite or other bone that he's chewed in the past.

As for the fact many in the population suffer from diagnosed/undiagnosed depression ... absolutely. So what? If one of those people were a District/High Court Judge, and their condition plus its treatment left them with "limited reasoning" skills", then they should step down from the bench until able to display the qualities required for good judgement. So I'm happy to generalise the point that any person with a depressive condition that leaves them unable to reason clearly should not be making decisions on name suppression.

As for the Herald, I've said something about it in the comments section of this Dimpost post. They may well have overstepped the mark, too. But of course, one wrong does not justify another, more extreme one.

Finally, I have never claimed Mr Slater is in it for the money. I think his motivation is attention for attention's sake, mixed with a genuine preference for laissez faire social rules.  But money ... no.

Bruce,

Not quite sure of your initial point ... are you charging Pundit with hypocrisy for even talking about Hone Harawira and Cameron Slater? Given the rather high profile these issues have had in both the blogosphere and the "real" media, wouldn't it be a bit odd not to talk about them? Or would you perhaps prefer us to post solely on issues that no-one knows about?

I guess the point is that every person writing a blog for an audience has to balance between writing something "worthwhile" (i.e. not simply generating page hits) and trying to be interesting to the reader. If you think we (or I) have been overly populist, then I'm sorry.

Your substantive points on name suppression mix up a couple of issues. The automatic suppression for certain offences point is dealt with by the Law Commission as follows:

In our view the automatic suppression provisions set out in section 139 are justified. Submissions endorsed this view, with only one submitter suggesting that the suppression should be available on request, rather than automatically. Sexual offences are a special category because of their highly personal 
and sensitive nature. There are real concerns about the low reporting rates for sexual crimes because of the ordeal associated with the trial process. Publication of victims’ names would provide a further disincentive to reporting. Automatic name suppression is appropriate, subject to the power of the court to
permit publication at the victim’s request.

As for the "name suppression just encourages more crime" point, can you link to the evidence you claim? It would be interesting to see.

by Adolf Fiinkensein on January 13, 2010
Adolf Fiinkensein

I didn't say you had claimed he was in it for the money.  It was one of your commenters who did so.

by Andrew Geddis on January 13, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Sorry Adolf. My bad.

At least we can both agree he/she is incorrect.

by Bruce Thorpe on January 13, 2010
Bruce Thorpe

You asked "As for the "name suppression just encourages more crime" point, can you link to the evidence you claim? It would be interesting to see."

The evidence is implicit in a number of cases where violent offenders on bail have committed further and rather more aggressive crimes, and by memory I would point to the killing of the Auckland schoolboy last year as a case where the evidence was actually presented at the subsequent trial.

But there is ample evidence that many accused commit further crime while on bail, much to the delight of SST and such "throw away the key" lobbyists.

I do not have access to the kind of data that the formal legal system  presumably collects and circulates. I am referring here to the informal accounts that most criminal lawyers hear from their clients and which is the direct experience of those of us who have at some time in out lives been passed through the country's court and prison system.

I know any number of people as well as myself, with prison experience who acknowledge that the time when on bail but facing loss of freedom is one of the most destabilising experiences in life, and the pressures to further offend are very high.

No I do not know of any criminologists who have analysed such data, and of course few defendants or their counsel volunteer such views.

 

by stuart munro on January 13, 2010
stuart munro

Apparently these are Ministry of Justice figures...

 25.3% of violent offenders don’t make it through their bail period before reoffending. rape, unlawful sexual connection or attempted sexual violation was higher; 27.4%, 30.4% and 31.2% respectively.

This would suggest a reversal of current policies on name suppresion - in that the relevance for the general public of criminal names is greater in the sex crime category.

Name suppression is a curious custom. In small communities it was always impossible. And New Zealand is substantially still a small community, much to the chagrin of various weasels who think they can get away with anything...

by Andrew Geddis on January 14, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Stuart (and Bruce),

But where's the evidence that name suppression in any way affects these reoffending rates? The assumption, I guess, is that if the alleged offender's name is suppressed, then the community is not warned and so people can't take steps to protect themselves. But I wonder if this assumption is well founded ... perhaps the following would help resolve that question.

Note that suppression of the alleged offender's name under s.139 only occurs where making it public would lead to the victim's identity being made known ... so there is no automatic suppression in cases where an offender and victim were strangers to each other. Hence, there will be a number of accused sex offenders who don't get name suppression, as publicising their name wouldn't identify the victim. Anyone know if the reoffending rates amongst those offenders without name suppression is any lower than that amongst those that do have it?

by Tim Watkin on January 14, 2010
Tim Watkin

Bruce, I've seen elsewhere the point you make that giving automatic name suppression to victims of sexual crimes simply re-inforces the idea that they should be ashamed of what happened to them... but I'm not convinced.

Victims could want privacy and their own sexual history kept out of the public realm without feeling any shame. Isn't it better to have a default position that empowers them to choose, rather than one that demands the world know their personal and painful business? If they want full disclosure, they can request it, as Andrew has written. As it stands, they get to choose, which seems the most respectful approach.

 

by stuart munro on January 14, 2010
stuart munro

Andrew, irrespective of the actual effect of knowing who to be afraid of, there is some merit in the argument that the danger posed by these people gives the public some right to know. I am sure that victims of assailants on bail feel doubly abused.

@Tim, the default position you suggest shows the legal profession's bias toward suppression. But the tradition that justice should be seen to be done stands against it. The damage to victims of releasing their offenders' names is somewhat subjective, and I would suggest to some degree socially constructed, so that a presumption of name suppression becomes self-reinforcing - which goes some way to explaining the current legal position - which is lame.

Victims' history and biography could be explicitly protected from publication, limiting disclosure to the perpetrators and narrowing the group who can identify victims from court descriptions. Extending that protection to the perpetrators is pretty damn close to sheer folly.

by Red Tussock on January 14, 2010
Red Tussock

Tim,

I am with you on the empower them by giving them the choice. However there have been situations in the past and no doubt the future, where the "victim" is being malicious. To ensure that there is no malice in the complaint we require a pretty switched on Police force.  If we were to empower victims to the extent proposed we would  also empower the malice that resides in the accusation. Name suppression should be automatic, to give police time to confirm forensic evidence, at least, and indeed for the victim to weigh the options with the benefit of legal council and without the heat of anger to cloud the decision.

by Bruce Thorpe on January 14, 2010
Bruce Thorpe

I think the public resentment over name suppression is due to the wide spread impression that these laws are used to suppress scandal and outrage, when it involves members or powerful elites, or those who would be associated with powerful organisations (police, tv networks, rugby union, churches, elite schools)

It was the Clint Rickards legal saga that raised a great range of examples. The inability of juries or public to get a clear overall picture of the many events involving a comparatively small number of the police force was a cause of outrage and distrust that has not been dispelled by more recent events.

It is seen by the general public as highly unsatisfactory that names and relevant edvidence ares closeted from them, but is the stuff of gossip and one upmanship, within legal and media circles.

Well intentioned statementds to the effect that if the public knew all the facts, actually inflames the situation.

The argument that victims can request non suppression, does not really convince those who believe most victims of sexual offences, and many other forms of violence, feel ashamed and disempowered already, and very seldom are in the strong enough emotional position to make such a request.

It is only when the information is made public do the victims begin to realise their position has widespread support.

 

by Tim Watkin on January 14, 2010
Tim Watkin

Bruce, I'd like to think you were right about the widespread support, but as previously noted NZ is a small community, people take sides and it's not always as cut and dried as that. Many sexual offenders use stature and good standing as a shield, and people stand by them – damning the victims – even if a guilty verdict is given. Privacy can be a protection.

But quite aside from that, I don't think victims should be forced to go public if they don't want to; that simply adds to their suffering. It's not up to us to force them to be good public examples. That's their choice.

What's more, it worries me that the cases currently under scrutiny are being lumped in together. In fact, they range from what some allege was a very minor, drunken incident to rape. While I think we suppress far too easily, it does make you think about how easily circumstances can be misrepresented. I've heard the allegedly minor incident described both as nothing on one hand and as child sexual abuse on the other. I would argue that more public scrutiny and transparency would clear that up, but at the same time must in honest admit that some people will misinterpret and over-react.

And don't forget there some different reasons for suppression. Some times it's temporary, some times to protect reputations and so on. But some times it's because the accused have other trials pending or have been convicted of similar crimes. The principle behind that is that our guilt or otherwise should be decided on the merits of that one case, not on the lazy assumptionthat because we did something else, we must have done this other crime as well. That's a centuries old legal concept and it's still valid.

Point is, let's not fall into generalisations.

Stuart, the point is that revealing the name of the offender often reveals the identity of the victim, because most sexual offending is against people known to the offender. Often you can't protect the victim and expose the offender as you wish, and in those cases, even if it means the offender gets off lightly, tough, better to protect the victim.

by stuart munro on January 15, 2010
stuart munro

Tim,

The problem with

... you can't protect the victim and expose the offender as you wish, and in those cases, even if it means the offender gets off lightly, tough, better to protect the victim...

is that the damage to the victim is intangible if indeed it occurs at all. In some cases I am sure you are correct - but in others the public interest (greater, not salacious) in open justice will have equal or greater merit. It therefore must not became a default, but be argued from the instant cases.

This is the kind of mess you get if all your laws are made by lawyers - a bit like the increasing not guilty plea proportion in criminal cases over the last three decades. Lawyer-trophic & sociopathic.

by Andrew Geddis on January 15, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Stuart,

"This is the kind of mess you get if all your laws are made by lawyers ..."

Oh that it were so! Unfortunately, the legal rule you refer to (automatic suppression of the identity of the offender where needed to protect the identity of victims of sexual offences, unless the victim asks for the name to be made public) was enacted by Parliament. Yes, this institution contains some lawyers (maybe even a disproportionately high number of them), but hardly consists entirely of lawyers ... nor even has a majority of ex-lawyers as its members. So your criticism seems a little misplaced.

Furthermore, in all other cases of name suppression, the court engages in exactly the sort of balancing exercise that you advocate. And the Law Commission (made up, oddly enough, of lawyers and ex-lawyers) recommends that this balancing exercise should continue (while suggesting the criteria should be made more explicit through legislation).

All of which is to say that you appear to be thinking like a lawyer. Hope that doesn't offend you too much?

by stuart munro on January 18, 2010
stuart munro

Well Andrew, it's certainly no compliment.

The disproportionate influence of lawyers is probably the hidden hand behind most failures of governance in New Zealand, and certainly explains the elitism and ill-founded notions of superiority that infest parliament, that conflict with its representative function.

De Tocqueville wrote:

The special information which lawyers derive from their studies ensures them a separate station in society, and they constitute a sort of privileged body in the scale of intelligence. This notion of their superiority perpetually recurs to them in the practice of their profession: they are the masters of a science which is necessary, but which is not very generally known; they serve as arbiters between the citizens; and the habit of directing the blind passions of parties in litigation to their purpose inspires them with a certain contempt for the judgment of the multitude.

Substantially this contempt makes them unfit to represent the interests of the greater part of their constituents, and an intelligently designed democracy might want some limit on lawyer members - after all, their influence through the judiciary is already substantial.

When we consider the incidence of name suppression, which even Tim finds excessive, is it the legal profession, or the general public that created the excess? I think we know qui bono.

by Frank Macskasy on June 30, 2011
Frank Macskasy


Bruce Thorpe on January 14, 2010:

"The argument that victims can request non suppression, does not really convince those who believe most victims of sexual offences, and many other forms of violence, feel ashamed and disempowered already, and very seldom are in the strong enough emotional position to make such a request."


If "most victims of sexual offences are very seldom  in a strong enough emotional position to make such a request" - then what makes them strong enough to face public attention?


"It is only when the information is made public do the victims begin to realise their position has widespread support."

That is most certainly not always the case. In fact, in many instances, victims of sexual abuse are re-victimised by ignorant members of the public who lack insight and are judgemental in the extreme. The case of Louise Nicolas is an example where, victimised once by rogue police officers, she was re-victimised and abused in the media and internet. Many of the anonymous comments on internet Fora and blogs were so repugnant that I dare not re-publish them anywhere else.

I am also struck by those who demand full disclosure, yet have no first-hand relationship with any particular victim of sexual abuse - yet make assumptions of their personal situation.

As for Mr Slater and his attempts to circumvent the law, my own personal experience would suggest that one does so at one's own risk. Mr Slater may genuinely believe that he is on a noble crusade. The only trouble is that, in the process he  forgets the pain he may cause innocent people.

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