Impeding Technology – Legal Culture and Technological Resistance

Introduction

This paper is about a collision between the culture and symbolism that accompanies the administration of law and technologies that enable change and a different way of doing things yet are the focus of resistance. I argue that this resistance at its heart is cultural and has little to do with legal doctrine.

The particular technologies that I shall discuss are communications technologies that enable and facilitate remote hearings where the participants need not attend a courthouse for a hearing of their dispute. The resistance is, as I have suggested, cultural and is based upon a number of factors including the way in which the imagination and the image of the Court as a symbol is represented and the role that imagery plays in the perception of the delivery of justice.

This cultural aspect also has relevance on the way in which the Rule of Law is perceived within the context of the “Court as a Place”. I argue that whatever imperatives may have underpinned the “Court as a Place” model of the delivery of justice, they are no longer as relevant or meaningful as they once might have been and that new communications technologies allow us to reimagine and revisit the way in which justice is delivered.

Justice, the law and the Rule of Law have been characterized as a “looming omnipresence in the sky” in the sense that although associated with rules governing the behaviour of individuals and groups within society it has certain intangible aspects that render it a somewhat slippery customer. Yet it fulfils a role within government structures and provides a system for the resolution of disputes between individuals and groups or between the State and the individual.

Although, as I shall argue, there is an air of mysticism and symbolic ritual that surrounds the law and legal process, in its most essential and most basic manifestation the legal process is an exercise in information exchange. I argue that the means by which information is exchanged has had an impact upon the way in which the legal process has developed.

We are now in the Digital Paradigm with all the various different means of communication that are now available. These include the tools for remote working which allow us to reimagine the way in which the Court operates and yet maintain those information flows that are essential to the legal and judicial process.

I argue that resistance to such reimagining is primarily cultural that includes a reluctance to move from what could be called a cultural comfort zone. I further argue that there is a certain inevitability that remote hearings increase in frequency and become normalized as part of the process. Underpinning this argument is the fact that new communications technologies shape our communications behaviours which in turn influence or modify our values and our acceptance of different ways of doing things. The argument is summed up in Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”.

Given that a court hearing is an information exchange, I shall argue that the assumptions that underpin the “Court as a Place” model or hearing may give way to what Professor Richard Susskind calls the “Court as a Service”.

I shall argue that those who prefer the “Court as a Place” model must be honest in recognizing that their adherence to that model is based upon deep-seated cultural preferences and assumptions about what the technology can do rather than upon any legal imperative.

The Rule of Law as a Benchmark for Technological Innovation

There is a school of thought that suggests that rather than rushing to embrace new technologies in the justice process, some caution should be employed in evaluating those technologies and whether they fulfil the objectives of the rule of law. 

The Chief Justice of New Zealand Dame Helen Winkelmann sets out a number of criteria that should be considered and against which new technological developments should be measured before their acceptance and deployment into the justice system[1]. However, the onset of the Covid 19 crisis accelerated the deployment of remote working facilities out of necessity, simply to keep the Court system, or aspects of it, running.

When read alongside an earlier paper that she delivered to the Criminal Bar Association Conference in August of 2019[2], the Chief Justice develops a theme that, whilst not necessarily suggesting that there should be little use of technology in the courts, suggests a certain conservatism,  a desire to maintain existing systems and an underlining sub-text that present systems, as far as they can be, fulfil the objectives of the rule of law. 

One of the abiding principles present in both papers is the recognition by the Chief Justice of the importance of physical presence by all the participants in the court system in the one place at the one time.  This focuses, therefore, attention upon the concept of the “court as a place” that fulfils a number of functions, some of them substantive, some of them procedural and some of them symbolic. 

This runs up against the views of Professor Richard Susskind, who considers that the courts of the future should be seen as “courts as a service” and that place should not matter.  In this regard, the Chief Justice, in her January 2020 paper, addresses directly and obliquely some of the issues that are raised by Professor Susskind in his advocacy for an on-line court or remote working system.

There can be no dispute with the proposition that the Rule of Law must be the standard against which technological innovation should be measured. The question that must be posed is whether the innovation proposed enhances or detracts from the performance by the courts of this task.

In a State living under the Rule of Law, the laws administered by the court must have a certain substantive content, affording adequate protection of fundamental human rights.  These human rights are necessary pre-conditions for equal access to the protection of law before the courts but it is argued that there is another element, which is that if society’s laws do not afford protection for these rights then those who sit outside the law’s protection have no reason to accept those laws or the decision of the courts.  Social cohesion, it is argued, is a necessary pre-condition to the rule of law and it is suggested that physical presence enhances that social cohesion.

The Courts as a Manifestation of the Rule of Law

Rather than providing a service, as suggested by Professor Susskind, the Chief Justice considers that the work the Courts do is more than that and is in fact a public good requiring a public performance by way of hearings in a local courthouse, involving participation and human interaction, which affords human dignity to those involved in civil and criminal proceedings.

This emphasis upon the “performance” aspect of the law is one of a number of criteria that support the way in which the Courts administer the Rule of Law. Among these aspects are

  •   The existence of an independent judiciary.
  •   The public administration of law.
  •   The importance of the local courthouse to the rule of law
  •   The work of lawyers is critical to supporting the rule of law
  •   That the court hearing is a public demonstration of the rule of law in action
  •   Public hearings exemplify fairness and legality

If technological innovation does not enhance one or more of these elements of the Rule of Law, then it can have no place within the system. The list of items all have certain common elements to them. The law must be administered in public – the transparency issue that I shall discuss shortly. That transparency, it is argued, requires a courthouse, with its attendant symbolism which I shall shortly consider. Lawyers are a part of that performance rite which demonstrates the law in action – again harking back to transparency – and fair and public hearings demonstrating this important aspect of the Rule of Law process.

Thus, to summarise the point thus far, within the Rule of Law model proposed there is an emphasis upon the public administration of justice, the importance of the courthouse as a symbol and the court hearing as a public demonstration of the rule of law – what is describes as the performative aspect or what I have characterised as the performance rite.

But does transparency involve the physical presence of all the participants in the same place at the same time? I suggest that it does not, and that the element of transparency can be achieved utilising technology.

Transparency

The Court has evolved as location where citizens go – or are taken – to air their disputes or have them resolved in a manner that is largely open and available. Thus, one of the criticisms of Remote Court Hearings (RCH) and the Online Court (OC) is the lack of transparency and thus represents an affront to open justice represented by public hearings.

Open justice and transparency suggest visibility of Court processes, procedures and operations, of information about the Courts such as data about cases and volumes as well as scheduling and the cost to the taxpayer.

The public should have access to advance notice of hearings, to a record of proceedings and information about the business before the Courts along with the substance of a determination or decision and an explanation or reasons for a decision.

Traditionally, hearings have been in a public forum in all but exceptional circumstances and the media should be present to report proceedings as surrogates of the public. This is what Professor Susskind refers to as “real-time transparency.”[3]

The remote hearing is criticized because it challenges “real time transparency”. In a completely on-line court there is no physical courtroom into which the public or media may venture. The question is whether or not this suggested “threat” is a real one.

The reality is that real-time transparency is more limited today than is acknowledged. We trumpet the openness and availability of courts but policies that involve closing down court houses and centralizing the administration of justice remove that aspect of transparency from local communities.

The difficulties in actually travelling to a Courthouse to benefit from that so-called transparency has its own problems including the availability of public transport or, if a private car is used, parking in a busy urban location. Only in cases of high profile criminal trials do members of the public present exceed the capacity of the courtroom to seat them. In most criminal cases those present are directly affected – complainants and their inevitable support networks or families of the accused.

This suggested loss of transparency suggests, in the minds of critics, that hearings will take place in secret giving rise to suggestions of “Star Chamber justice”.

This is patently unsustainable. With the multitude of communications platforms available Court hearings can be broadcast online. The case of State of Washington v Trump before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was broadcast over Internet platforms to an audience of over 131,000 people. In addition none of the Judges were in the same place but teleconferenced in to the hearing.[4]

The issue of open justice and transparency can be addressed by providing for a stream of proceedings before the Court if there is a full hearing or, if the decision is “on the papers” the online publication of the reasons for a decision.

The Covid 19 crisis immediately challenged the concept of transparency of Court proceedings by virtue of distancing and gathering requirements as well as restrictions on travel. Although the Courts in New Zealand were considered an essential service, adaptations had to be made. In many cases defendants in criminal courts appeared by way of Audio-Visual links (AVL). Counsel were “present” by way of virtual meeting room or conferencing software that allowed for audio and video. In some case even the Judge appeared remotely as distinct from sitting in a Courtroom.

Importantly the media were able to join the Court remotely and participate in being able to observe and report the hearings as they might have done in real-time. Indeed, the ability of the news media to “attend” a number of courts without leaving news desks actually enhanced the ability of the media to report Court proceedings and act as surrogates of the public.

It may be seen from these examples that concerns about transparency that are associated with “real-time” courts have little substance in the face of technological solutions that are available for remote working.

A Fair Trial?

But there are some deeper criticisms of the RCH or OC model. Can a RCH or the OC deliver a fair trial. This raises the question of whether or not the work of the Courts must be conducted on a face to face basis to achieve a just outcome.

The question becomes one of whether the public hearing is equated with a physical one. Professor Susskind suggests that our concept of “public” has evolved as communications technology has improved[5]. Online access to meetings, lectures and events is considered “public”.

This has moved even further during the Covid 19 crisis when, for example, the Auckland Theatre Company “staged” an online and very public version of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” to international acclaim.[6] The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performed online concerts during the Covid 19 lockdown and has and as at the date of writing continues to present very public performances online[7]. Thus, the Internet provides an element of public participation in terms of performance and the gathering of information.

The public perception of the administration of justice – of fair process and fair trial- through the Court system has four basic elements – all of them procedural. They are that all cases should be treated alike; that parties should be given the opportunity to state their case before a Judge who has no personal interest in the dispute; judges should be impartial and work within a judicial system that is independent and that cases should be judged and not the parties.

The issue is whether these elements require, as a pre-condition, first, a physical presence on the part of participants and secondly, that presence in a structure or building that is largely symbolic and associated with a number of seemingly arcane rituals that are the province of a select priesthood – the lawyers.[8]

What is more important, it is suggested, is that the decisions of the Courts are fair, the processes are fair and in accordance with the rules of natural justice, that the participants are satisfied that they are so and that access to the courts is available across the community at an affordable cost.

Perceptions of Participation

The remote working model, it is argued, challenges the importance of litigants being treated with dignity and respect and the importance of human interaction between litigant lawyer and Judge.

The argument is that the on-line or remote working model challenges parties’ perception of participation and the critical importance of the presentation of one’s case in court. These perceptions have a common theme which is that of the level of engagement that may take place during a Court hearing and the impact of a remote appearance as opposed to an “in person” one.

Associated with the level of engagement are what could be termed participatory elements operate at a more visceral level and could be summed up in the terms “the day in court” and “the face to face hearing” which has its origins in the concept of confrontation between accuser and accused. I shall first discuss the level of engagement and then proceed to consider the elements of the “day in court” and “the face to face hearing”. I suggest that none of these issues are compromised by a remote hearing.

Level of Engagement

This aspect could be described as the “level of engagement” and that an appearance remotely may mean that the participant is not as fully “present” as she or he may be in person.

Once again, the Covid 19 experience is instructive. Counsel have certainly shown as great a level of engagement working remotely as if they were present in Court. The amusing observation by one defence lawyer that she wore a working blouse and blazer on top and track pants out of shot seemed to have little impact upon her level of engagement in a 90 minute opposed bail application.

It has been my observation as a Judge dealing with accused persons via an AVL link that they are as engaged as if they were present in person – perhaps even more so for they are able to remain focussed on what is occurring on the screen rather than having informal and signalled communications with friends or family members in Court. 

Lambie and Hyland discuss the importance of these early interactions with the Court.

“the pre-trial period should be viewed in New Zealand as it is in other jurisdictions; as a window of opportunity to provide the appropriate wrap around service provision that is required by the individual and their whanau”.[9]

However important that part of the process might be, and I agree that it is, I do not see that a remote appearance compromises the matters raised by Lambie and Hyland. As I have observed, the level of engagement is just as high with a remote appearance as it is with an in person one.

In some respects the level of engagement can be higher in that the positioning and size of the screens upon which people appear can play a part. Professor Susskind referred to the value of a large high definition screen[10]. My only observation about that in the context of the New Zealand Courts in general and the District Court in particular is the positioning of screens which should, as much as possible, reflect the positioning of the participants as if they were present in person. This is a matter which will have to be addressed in Courtroom design or configuration if remote hearings are to continue and become a part of the Courtroom toolbox.

Another matter raised is that of trustworthiness but what really could be described as empathy where there is a perception that the decision-maker actually cares about the case. This arises as a result of the dynamic of the hearing but could be as applicable to the online as to the in-person experience. 

Finally, there is the issue of neutrality, which can take place within the context of an oral hearing in which the parties have an opportunity to be heard and where the Judge is seen to be paying equal attention to the arguments of each side. This is an important aspect of the “level of engagement” issue.

Participants must also remember that, as in a physical courtroom, they are always “on” and care must be taken to behave in an engaging, interesting, respectful manner.

These latter matters fold into another issue about participation and that is the sense that litigants are entitled to their “day in court”. This phrase carries within it a number of elements. One of them, fundamental to the Rule of Law argument, is that everyone should have access to the court process for the resolution of a dispute. But does that mean physical presence or rather the availability of the services that the Court offers?

The “Day in Court”

Will remote hearings or remote “presence” will deprive litigants of their “day in Court” or access to the dispute resolution services that the Court provides.  The first point to be made is that remote hearings or remote participation should be seen as one means of allowing for “presence” at a hearing. It is not suggested that all hearings should be conducted remotely.

A remote hearing would offer much of the essence of the physical presence offered by day in court, particularly as remote video technology improves. It would also offer a remote day in court to those facing difficulties in personal attendance. The growth and development of remote communication and familiarity with getting information from a screen may make determination of substantive legal rights in circumstances other than face to face less of a departure from the cultural norm than may be perceived at present.

The real question is whether or not we are prepared to deny citizens access to the services of the Court because of their inability to be physically present. Quaestio caedit.

The “Face to Face” Hearing

The “Face to face” hearing is based on the assumption that remote hearings will deprive litigants of “face to face” justice. This could well be a misunderstanding of the nature of the so-called confrontation right[11] and is an argument based more upon tradition and a reliance upon earlier paradigms than any rational justification.

The concept of the “human face” of justice is considered significant. This has been advanced by Dr. Ian Lambie and Olivia Hyland in two articles[12] and has been articulated by Andrew Langdon QC in his inaugural speech as Chairman of the Bar of England and Wale who said:

“The humanity of physical presence is, I suggest, an important component in the delivery of justice…Being in the physical presence of a witness or a jury or a defendant or a Judge or your lawyers …..isn’t that fundamental to our innate sense of how justice should be delivered?…Justice has a human face, and its not a face on a screen…Many smaller cases benefit from getting everyone together in one place. The dynamic between the parties becomes evident; whether one side is unfairly dominating the other, whether one party is as well-heeled as the other.”[13]

The underlying themes of these comments are that justice must be done in person, the participants must be able to look one another in the eye, claimants and victims need to meet face to face, the humanity of justice can only be done in a largely symbolic centrally located building, justice is personal and the playing field is levelled by physical presence.

Recent developments arising out of the Covid 19 crisis have demonstrated some of the fallacies about the necessity for physical presence. I have noted the evidence of Professor Richard Susskind to House of Lords Constitutional Committee, where he commented on the fact that remote hearings could be used to determine credibility issues and noted the advantages of the full-screen view of a witness.[14]

Susskind also raises the issue of the fact that one may get a sense of a person’s credibility and their demeanour by looking at them on a high definition screen where the video is close to the face. It should be noted in this context that there have been some critics of the importance of demeanour in the fact finding process. A considerable amount of importance is placed by some on demeanour. Does the insight that a Judge may gain from seeing a witness face to face be as frequent or as accurate a perception in the remote hearing.[15]

The issue of demeanour as a guide to truth telling and the reliance upon non-verbal cues as an aid to assessing credibility has been the subject of a considerable body of literature from the field of the behavioural science, and the overwhelming conclusion is that demeanour is not a useful guide to veracity.[16] 

There is no philosophical nor empirical justification for a need for face-to-face interaction – especially in the Internet age. The rules of natural justice are not threatened by the remote hearing model and there is certainly no constitutional principle that requires that justice can only be achieved where there is a form of face to face resolution. The issue of the “face to face” critique is met by the deployment of video systems to create a “virtual” or “online” court and the improvements in technology as noted by Professor Susskind may well enhance the evidence giving process.

There can be no doubt that the critics of RCH or OC believe that a move away from physical hearings is a retrograde – indeed fatal – step for the administration of justice. For most of our lives we have one conception of the resolution of disputes through the Court process. We have become attached to the environment that has provided us with careers and for a great many with prosperity. It is hard to conceive that there may be radically different ways of achieving the same outcome. We are culturally attuned to our way of attempting to achieve justice and in many respects we tend to support that cultural acclimatization with almost mythical and symbolic elements.

The cultural aspect of presence-based arguments have developed over a period of centuries.  They have developed within the context of the availability, or lack of availability, of different systems of communication. 

The oral hearing arose because that was the only way in which a dispute could be litigated as the court system was developing many centuries ago.  Only when new technologies came into play, such as the development of the printing press and its impact upon law and legal culture, were there small and incremental changes in legal culture. 

One of these changes involved reliance upon printed materials as a record of what the law was.  As Lord Camden said in Entick v Carrington[17] “if it is not in our books it is not the law” and, in saying that, he was summing up the importance of the printed record as law as opposed to the concept of immemorial custom that had been a feature of earlier iterations of the development of the English legal system.

Up until the 1930s and the development of digital systems, all of our communications took place within the context of what could be described of analogue systems such as print, radio, wireless, television and the like.  Only when the internet went public in the early 1990s did the real digital revolution take place. 

Within this context, the number of different methods and systems of communication arose – all of them deploying digital technologies.  This may not mean a lot but, in fact, it is important when we consider that the presentation of a court case, with all of the cultural aspects referred to, involves an information exchange. The advantages of new technologies are that the abilities to engage in that information exchange are enhanced and improved.

It is to the cultural and sub-conscious preferences for the in-person model that I shall now turn.

  Cultural Issues

In the next section I shall develop the argument that many of the reasons for opposition to remote hearings and online courts are based on cultural habits and expectations rather than having anything to do with the integrity of the law.

Legal culture, in its most general sense, is one describing relatively stable patterns of oriented social behavior and attitudes. The identifying elements of legal culture range from facts about institutions such as the number and role of lawyers or the way judges are appointed and controlled, to various forms of behaviour such as litigation or prison rates, and at the other extreme, more nebulous aspects of ideas, values, aspirations and mentalities. Like culture itself, legal culture is about who we are, not just what we do.[18]

In this section I shall consider the way in which legal culture is represented in image and otherwise to demonstrate some of the ways in which the Rule of Law is represented that has little to do with its real purpose but rather creates a psychological mythology of how those in power wish the law to be perceived by those whom it governs.

Court, Culture and Information

The trial is the law’s high theatre. The Courtroom is a stage and the participants are the players. Some, such as witnesses, have bit parts. Some are major players – on stage throughout the whole performance. It is little wonder that trials – especially criminal trials – feature so frequently in literature and in entertainment. The trial scene in Shakespeare’s ”Merchant of Venice” is gripping drama as well as being a showpiece for a number of jurisprudential theories. The trial is a set piece in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the film “Witness for the Prosecution” is the trial itself. The trial dynamic brings all the players into the one place, with the classic dramatic formulae of human interactions, conflict and denoument. Television is replete with lawyer shows in which trials feature – “Rumpole of the Bailey” and “Silk” provide two examples.

Of course the trial is more than that. It is a critical part of a State provided dispute resolution process that has evolved over the centuries and is characterised by elegantly moderated reasoned arguments supported by specialised information which lawyers call evidence.

In the same way that the practice of law involves the acquisition, processing, sharing and communication of information, likewise Court proceedings are all about information.  Information takes certain forms, be it by way of pleadings which inform the Court what the dispute is about, evidence which informs the Court as to the strength of the assertions contained in the pleadings, submissions by which the Court is informed as to the possible approaches that it may adopt in determining the outcome, and from the Court to the lawyers and the parties when it delivers a decision.  In the course of processing the decision the Judge or Judges will embark upon their own information acquisition activities, looking up the law, checking the assertions or alternatively having recourse to an internal information exchange involving Judges’ Clerks.

Thus, a court is not only a place of adjudication, but also an information hub. Information is assembled, sorted and brought to the courtroom for presentation. Once presented, various theories of interpretation are put before the fact-finder, who then analyses the data according to prescribed rules, and determines a verdict and result. That result, often with collateral consequences, is then transmitted throughout the legal system as required either by law reports, academic comment or on-line legal information systems. The court is thus the centre of a complex system of information exchange and management.[19]

Courts and Communication

Historically the conduct of a Court hearing has involved an oral exchange. This practice developed simply because there was no other way to convey information. Those who had a grievance would bring it before the chieftain or ruler and would seek redress. What we understand as the Rule of Law in its most embryonic form was to prevent the destruction of the members of a community or even the community itself by retribution or blood feuds.

Judges became the proxy for the ruler or, in the case of England, the King. Whereas the King would hear disputes in his court, so Judges adopted “the court” as the central place for hearing and resolving disputes. In England the Royal Courts occupied sections of Westminster Hall. The King’s Judges did not sit permanently in the Courts that were located in the towns and cities. They attended regularly at Assizes.[20]

Written pleadings were not a feature of the early Courts. The entire process was an oral one, although written pleadings did become an important part of the court process. A misdrawn pleading could result is a dismissed case for want of form.[21]

That this model continued through into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is quite understandable. The technology simply was not available to conduct a hearing in any other way. The advent of the printing press presented a means by which legal information could be accurately recorded, standardized and duplicated[22] but this had little impact upon the way in which Court cases proceeded, although, as has been observed, printed law gradually achieved a level of acceptance whereby it became sufficiently authoritative to be relied upon by Judges as a source of law.

Although significant procedural changes came about with the merging of the Courts of Common Law and Equity perhaps the first technological innovation arose as a result of the use of the typewriter, and carefully crafted copperplate manuscript pleadings gave way to typewritten ones. Other technological innovations became a part of the Court system. The telephone as a means of communication between Court and participants became routine. To the dismay of many judges innovations such as the photocopier allowed for the presentation of large amounts of information and so the means of information transmission began to improve and increase. Despite the occasional incident of resistance to the use of a new technology it is doubtful that its introduction was opposed on the basis that it would result in fundamental or do substantial damage to the Rule of Law.

Rather, I would suggest, the acceptance of technologies such as evidence of tape recordings and closed circuit TV, evidence of tape recorded or video recorded evidential statements, the use of sound recording for the purposes of creating the Court record have all been accepted with little resistance. Perhaps this is because some of the apparent fundamental aspects of the court hearing have remained intact – the oral hearing, the gathering together of all the parties and witnesses in the one place in a Court – a word that echoes the Royal origins of the process – remain.

Yet the basic method of conducting a case – bringing information before the Court so that the fact finder may process that information and in turn reverse the flow of information back to the parties – remains.

Symbols, Imagery and the Culture of Law

But around the very basic process of information exchange a certain mystique, ritualism and symbolism has developed. This has to do with the mythologizing of the legal process – elevating it in importance as an aspect of the Rule of Law. But these mystical elements must give way to new and different ways of achieving the outcomes that the legal process seeks. As the legal process has done in the past, the adoption and use of new technologies may achieve this and at the same time maintain and enhance its relevance in the hearts and minds of the citizenry.

The Symbols of Justice

Societies have sought to define the nebulous virtue of justice through visual allegories and metaphors, along with libraries of books, articles, tales and parables written and told to imbue the abstraction of justice with meaning.

The management of image in the service of power is well known in modern politics although imagery and symbolism has played a part in depicting and representing power structures, along with other abstract ideas, throughout history[23]. Much of this symbolism is represented in art, objects or architecture. The law is no stranger the use of symbols and other representations to enhance or solidify its importance in society.

In Ancient Greece Themis – a Titaness – is described as “[the Lady] of good counsel”, and is the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom. Her symbols are the Scales of Justice, tools used to remain balanced and pragmatic. Themis means “divine law” rather than human ordinance, literally “that which is put in place”, from the Greek verb títhēmi (τίθημι), meaning “to put”. Her Roman equivalent was Iustitia.

Themis is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of justice and her statue may be found in many Court locations, perhaps the most recognizable to those of the Anglo-American tradition as the figure on the dome of the Old Bailey. She is referred to as Lady Justice and is often portrayed not only with scales but also with a blindfold, a further symbol within a symbol, representing the impartiality and objectivity of justice.  Her scales represent weighing competing arguments or propositions and the sword is the sword of power and punishment.  In some representations a snake appears under her foot, representing the overcoming of evil as well as, latterly, a book representing a source of law[24].

In earlier imagery she was not seen as standing alone but was flanked by Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude and other classical virtues. With her sisters relegated to antiquity, however, justice has come to be treated as a self-sufficient ideal, a secularized cardinal virtue for the moderns.

She is the totem onto which Western societies have projected their concerns about power and legitimacy. Her omnipresence is a visual reminder of John Rawls’s famous dictum that ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions’.

This image is perhaps the most recognizable of justice and its association with Court.

The Courthouse

The courthouse as a central location for the administration of justice is frequently portrayed as an imposing structure, often harking back to classical elements. Examples may be found in the United States Supreme Court Building or the imposing, almost overpowering façade of the Royal Courts of Justice in London or the Palais de Justice in Paris.[25]

The architecture of courthouses frequently incorporates pillars or similar architectural motifs. The pillars represent strength and sustainability, representing a reliable justice system.

Frequently the neoclassical architectural style that characterizes the United States Supreme Court along with many other Courthouses in the United States reflects the desire of the State to connect with a mythical past or ideal of justice embodied by Graeco-Roman temples or other famous buildings of antiquity. Indeed, court construction at a national, regional or transnational level is deeply self-conscious, engaged with history by seeking to embrace and link to traditions and often culture.[26]

On the other hand because the imagery of justice has been deployed to sanction power, the handful of images that suggest that justice might sometimes require defying the law are powerful and haunting. The South African Constitutional Court has been built on the site of an apartheid-era prison, and preserves the marks of decades of abuse perpetrated within its confines.

The murals that adorn the Mexican Supreme Court provide equally visceral reminders of egregious and arbitrary uses of state power. Rafael Cauduro’s arresting images break with the usual piety of courthouse art in  which justice is represented as the guiding light of a benevolent state, and instead depict acts of torture, rape and mass murder carried out by agents of the State.”[27]

These representations of justice within the context of a Courthouse – location in the case of South Africa – murals in the case of Mexico – stand out as reminders of the importance of justice in opposition to the arbitrary use of repressive State power and the important function performed by the Rule of Law to protect the rights and dignity of citizens.

However, more recently we witness the grand architecture of courts being eschewed in favor of multipurpose ‘law enforcement centers’ that fulfill a range of bureaucratic functions. The contrast between the visual grandeur of traditional courts and the invisibility of new forms of adjudication underlines the fact that the latter are much less accessible to the public even though they ‘decide the rights and obligations of hundreds of thousands of individuals’.  

Even in the case of administrative hearings that as a practical matter, everyone has the “right” to attend’, the proceedings are physically difficult to locate. Perhaps, given the developments in modern Courthouse design, our representation of justice as of the imposing, powerful, symmetrical and even handed is itself being mythologized.

Ritual

Courtroom ritual fulfils a number of functions. What to many may seem to be a somewhat unusual sequence of bows when a Judge enters the courtroom is a mark of mutual respect for the participants in the process. The somewhat arcane language – “May it please your Honour” – is indicative of respectfulness and for some provides a path in to the development of an argument.

If anything it is in the rituals of the Court that we see the greatest practicality of the process. In essence the Court provides a forum for competing arguments. Despite the drama and raised voices that one sees in American courtroom TV shows, the argument that is carried out in Court is very restrained and conducted, for the main, rationally and within a very constrained framework. Raised voices are not tolerated. Personal opinions are eschewed in favour of the advancement of a proposition. “I think” is replaced with “I submit”.

Yet in many respects this means of presentation of an argument in itself represents a move towards a comfort zone. True, the development of advocacy has taken place over a number of years and has reached a point where there seems little room for innovation. But at the same time it represents an aspect of comfort with process that itself obstructs any suggestion that there may be a better or more effective way of presenting a proposition[28]. For this reason, despite the obvious advantages of modern advocacy allowing a number of technology enhanced forms of presentation, I consider Courtroom ritual to be an aspect of cultural impediments to change.

The Imagery of Justice

The symbols, imagery and architectural styles are part and parcel of the representations that to an extent mythologize justice to the point where those symbols become cultural imperatives for the way in which the system is required and expected to operate. Within many Courthouses are great halls, entry porticos, in some cases doors engraved with symbols, conspicuous images of national identity such as coats of arms or other forms of constitutional iconography representing or portraying legitimacy of what takes place within the temple-like structure.

The Courtroom or courtrooms themselves and their location in the building often structurally or by way of positioning represent the hierarchical nature of the law and indeed the legal establishment. Many Courthouses have a large main Courtroom, often used for ceremonial purposes, surrounded by a number of smaller Courtrooms. Within these ceremonial courtrooms, often replete with large paintings depicting Jurists or Heads of Bench, the rituals and cultural underpinning of the law are enhanced. On ceremonial occasions in New Zealand Queens Counsel are seated in order or appointment and are called upon in that order for no other purpose than to recognize their presence – a process that is mystifying to members of the public who are not members of the legal “priesthood.”

The Courtroom itself contains its own hierarchies with a raised bench, counsel’s table – prosecution or Crown at the front, defence behind for no other reason, like many legal cultural practices,  than that is the way that it has always been –  and the public behind a bar beyond which only certain persons may pass.

In appellate Courtrooms the design is usually very symmetrical with equally symmetrical seating for the Judges, the President or the Chief Justice in the centre. Once again the quaint and polite rituals take place. Before the Judges are seated and before they bow to those in the Court they bow to each other.

Apart from the central seat, the seating of the Judges represents the egalitarian nature of the Judges who occupy the same bench, although that said in most of the top appellate courts the judges sit from the centre based on their seniority. Seniority is another quaint aspect of the imagery of legal culture.

The layout of the Courtroom is reminiscent of a place of worship – the Bench is in the place of the altar and often behind it is a form of iconography be it a flag or other national symbol like a coat of arms. The area before the Bar where counsel and other officers of the Court may take their place is akin to the sanctuary – an area reserved for the priesthood – and the public gallery seating is similar to the pews in a church.

The impact of the imagery of justice and especially the Courthouse is not restricted to those attending.  The images of Court buildings appears countless times in newspapers, television and online in any number of places owing to an intense focus on Court hearings from national media coverage. This use of the imagery of justice enhances the perceived power of the Court, adding to the cultural significance of the legal process.

At the same time the top appellate Courthouses perpetuate the imagery and representations of justice by being not only symbolic of government authority but, as they become empty of the business of judging and evolve into museums for school children and destinations for tourists, they are becoming themselves symbols for courts.[29]

The Majesty of the Law

So far I have demonstrated how the symbolism of the law has become part of the cultural heritage of those involved in its practice and administration. To interfere with the symbols and images of the law would at best be culturally uncomfortable and at worst be seen as rending the fabric of the Rule of Law. And in many respects these elements underpin the issue of “the majesty of the law” as an aspect of the Rule of Law and which is used as a reason for applying the brakes to technological change.

Andrew Langdon as Chairman of the Bar in 2016 in his inaugural address made reference to the “majesty of the Court.

“Most of us – lawyers or not – instinctively understand the solemnity or as it is sometime put, the “majesty” of the law. The historic prominence of a court building in the municipal setting demonstrates that our ancestors understood it also. Whereas no one wants court users to be overborne or intimidated, neither will it be helpful if respect for those who administer the law is diminished by the very fact that those who come before the Court are only in the virtual presence, rather than the actual presence of judicial authority.”[30]

Those who see the law and its administration as “majestic” and remote hearings as being an erosion of the “majesty of the law” need to give careful consideration to the purpose of the legal process. At the moment the court system is hard to understand, hard to access, marginalising for many and reserved for the few who can afford it. Coupled with that, it retains elements of kinetic presence and orality that have been part and parcel of the system since the Middle Ages.

One must add to this the fact that many of our Court buildings are anything but majestic, apart from the occasional imposing temples such as the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC or the Supreme Court building in Wellington, New Zealand. By and large our Court buildings are shabby and run down. As Professor Susskind says “To celebrate our court buildings again runs the risk of lapsing into romantic transcendentalism.”[31]

Indeed, I would suggest that it is not “majesty” itself that is the fundamental value. It is not an intrinsic good, important for its own sake. Rather than a “majestic” system we want a system that is authoritative, respected and supportive of the principles of justice to which I have already referred.

Furthermore the system should be relevant and not detached from the mainstream lives of citizens. It should not be intimidating and should reflect modern standards and understandings. The court system should not exist as a majestic rarely used physical system, little understood and at the periphery of the lives of citizens. It should be effective, meaningful, authoritative, relevant, respected and understood as part of the mainstream of a society under the Rule of Law.

The use of cameras in Court have assisted in public education and have increased public awareness of the way in which the Court process operates and have not derogated from the solemnity of the Court as an institution nor its processes. The UK Supreme Court live streams its hearings and a similar proposal is in train for the New Zealand Supreme Court. Some Federal Appeal Courts in the US also live stream. The US Supreme Court needs to rethink its attitude to cameras in court.

Remote hearings will increase the necessary legitimacy to and confidence in the legal process by providing an effective additional means to access the justice system. The alternative is for litigants to migrate to other forms of private sector dispute resolution, simple because the State is failing in its duty to its citizens

Fundamental to the Rule of Law is an effective State provided mechanism for the resolution of disputes. An effective, popular, authoritative and respected Court system that embraces new communications technology to further its purpose should underpin and help maintain the Rule of Law.

The Comfort Zone

It is perhaps within the realm of cultural comfort that the innate conservatism of many lawyers lies. The mantra goes “this is the way that we have done things in the past and it has worked and there is no need to change.” This mantra, of course, ignores the fact that law and particularly the legal culture associated with it does change albeit slowly and at times imperceptibly. In essence this mantra calls upon the traditions of law as a validation for continuing past practices. But tradition itself cannot act as a justification unless there is some rational basis for its continuation. And the problem with tradition is that is is constantly facing the winds of change and the dynamic of the human condition.

I have already commented on the role of the printing press – the first information technology – and its dynamic impact on legal culture. The shift from an understanding of the underlying communicative qualities[32] of the printing press, although recognized by some legislators such as Thomas Cromwell and by those who wished to advance a particular view of the law such as Sir Edward Coke, to a positive cultural shift in the recognition of the fact that the fixity of print and its incorporation in a book enabled the certainty that the law demanded along with its authoritativeness took some 284 years from the publication of Littleton’s Tenures in 1481 to the dictum of Lord Camden in Entick v Carrington.

There were other dynamics in the law. The development of the adversarial criminal trial with counsel playing a part provides an example. The evolution of the criminal trial from a lawyer free to a lawyer dominated model and the slow recognition that there was a taxonomy of types of evidence developed over a period of a century from the 1690’s when counsel were permitted in Treason trials to the 1730’s when judges allowed counsel to cross-examine witnesses to the greater involvement of counsel in arguing points of law by the 1780’s.[33] It may be surprising to some that the criminal trial process is a relative novelty when one considers the reach and scope of legal history.

There are other examples of dynamic change in the law and in legal processes. In my years of practice I have seen the Criminal Justice Act 1954, the Criminal Justice Act 1985 and the Sentencing Act 2002 along with the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 all of which introduced significant changes in criminal procedure. These were not opposed or decried because they challenged “the way we have always done things”.

There have been other examples of the dynamic in legal culture. One example may be seen in the abandonment in New Zealand of the need to wear wigs and gowns in the Senior Courts. Wigs and gowns are now retained only for ceremonial occasions, vested as they are with calls upon professional traditions. Yet the move for change was met with considerable protest, and is still decried by some traditionalists. Now only a black gown is worn in the Senior Courts and in the District Court for criminal jury trials.

The dynamic has reached the Judiciary. Imperceptibly and certainly without wide debate, although I imagine there were some terse exchanges in Senior Court common rooms, the formal ceremonial red robes of Her Majesty’s Judges has given way to a black gown with a motif panel upon it and the full bottomed wig, harking back to Restoration days, has been consigned to the cupboard.

Yet I suggest that what I call cultural comfort or continuing to do things in a particular way because that is the way that they have been done underpins much of the resistance to procedural change in the way in which cases are presented in Court. I further suggest that the elements of the Rule of Law that allow for transparency and public performance do not require the symbolic elements of the quasi-religious temples of justice nor can their continued use to the exclusion of other alternative means of delivering justice be justified on what is a self-perpetuating representation and imagery of what the Rule of Law is imagined to be.

How Culture Changes With Technology

In this section I shall argue that new technologies may act as drivers or agents of change in behaviour, values and culture. I shall propose that the pace of change has accelerated and indeed in terms of communications technologies, the digital revolution has ushered in a new communications paradigm – the Digital Paradigm.

Paradigmatic Change

I have suggested elsewhere that digital communications systems have resulted in a paradigm shift in the way in which we communicate and in our responses to and expectations of information. This arises from the significant properties that digital communications systems bring to bear and how they enable the differing views that we have of the communication of information.[34]

Changes in Behaviour

Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” pithily sums up the way in which our inventions and tools affect behaviour. Once the tool becomes a part of what we do it changes how we do it and in the long term may have an impact upon other aspects of our lives and ultimately our expectations and values.

In the past there has been a gradual progression of new communications media. The printing press was the first information technology and until the mechanisation of print was introduced, there were no major changes in the way in which the technology operated. The types of content that print produced expanded but the real “reach” of print became possible with industrial printing and much larger print runs than were possible with the hand operated press. The technology and its particular underlying properties, however, remained the same.

The next step on the communications media progression was the introduction of telegraph – the long distance transmission of text or symbols without the physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Semaphore, beacons and reflected light signals (heliograph) are forms of telegraphy but it was the use of electricity that enabled the development of telegraphy in the early nineteenth century as the next development in communications technologies. Telegraphy was followed by the telephone – another one to one technology that enabled communication by voice – wireless telegraphy in the 1880’s and from this communications innovation came radio and television in relatively rapid succession.

The time lapses between the introduction of these various technologies reduced considerably and the pace of change accelerated. But each technology was a discrete development. In addition, transmission of information required significant investment in infrastructure so that the deployment of capital intensive communications technologies such as radio or television was only possible by means of centralised organisations. In addition, there was no real convergence of technologies although television could be considered a form of radio with pictures. But it certainly became more than that.

Each of these communications technologies brought to the table a new set of characteristics or properties that modified those of earlier technologies or introduced new ones. The effect of this was that the expectations and behaviours surrounding information communication changed. Furthermore, the development of these various technologies meant that the range of means by which information could be acquired increased as well. But in terms of information flows, communication was virtually one way – from the originator of the information to the audience. Unless one was a member of a live radio or TV audience, participation in information flows and in the creations of information in response to that received was nil.

This has all changed with the development of the Internet and the various communications protocols that are “bolted” on to it. Effectively what has happened has been the convergence of communications technologies so that users may send and receive information from the one place, virtually at the same time in a seamless fashion.

I suggest that the new communications technologies that have become available on the mass market for mass consumption have resulted in changes in behaviour.

As behaviours change their validity becomes accepted as a norm and as an acceptable aspect of life. For many private conversations in a private setting via mobile phone are perfectly acceptable. There is an expectation that there will be an element of privacy accorded to such communications.

Indeed the mobile phone has drastically altered behaviour by virtue of the fact that it makes subscribers available 24/7. No longer are business communications restricted to the office setting and although this is seen as an added pressure of business it is accepted as a part of life in the Digital Paradigm.

The smart phone provides a smorgasbord of communications options in addition to voice communication. It enables text messaging, video messaging, access to the Internet and communication – both voice and video – by a number of apps that have been made available by third party developers.

Changes in Assumptions about Information

Understanding the medium and the way it governs and moderates information activities allows us to understand the impact of the digital communications technologies – a convergence of everything that has gone before and the way in which it redefines the use of information and the way we access it, process it, use it, respond to it and our expectations of it and its availability.

In some respects the paradigm shift can be seen in an inter-generational context. Mark Prensky, an American educator, spoke of the issues confronting education in the digital paradigm.[35] He suggested that there was a growing culture of people who had grown up knowing nothing but the Internet, digital devices and seeking out information on-line. This group he called “Digital Natives” – those born after 1990. He contrasted this class with “Digital Immigrants” – those who had developed the information seeking and uses before the advent of the Internet. Digital Immigrants used digital communications systems but their thought processes were not as committed to them as Digital Natives. Although they could speak the same language as the Digital Natives, they had a different accent that derived from an earlier information paradigm.

Digital Immigrants have an approach to information that is based upon sequential thinking, single tasking and limited resources to enable communication, all underpinned by the fixity of text. For the Digital Immigrant text represents finality. A book is not to be reworked, and the authority of a text depends upon its finality.[36] Information is presented within textual constraints that originate in the Print Paradigm.

Digital Natives inhabit a different information space. Everything is “multi” – multi-resource, multi-media, multi-tasking, parallel thinking. Information for the Digital Native may in its first instantiation be text but it lacks the fixity of text, relying rather on the dynamic, fluid, shifting qualities of the digital environment. Text does not mean finality. Text is malleable, copyable, moveable and text, like all other forms of information in the digital space, is there to be shared.

In the final analysis, the fundamental differences between Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives can be reduced to one fundamental proposition – it’s all about how we process information. For Digital Natives the information resources are almost without limitation and the Digital Native mind shifts effortlessly between text, web-page hypertext links, YouTube clips, Facebook walls, Flikr and Tumblr, the terse, abbreviated tweet or text message and all of it not on a desktop or a laptop but a handheld smartphone.

Expectations of information

Along with intergenerational changes in assumptions about information, our expectations of information change as well and many of those expectations are based upon assumptions which are largely developed and perpetuated by digital natives.

One only has to consider the use of the phrase “for further information go to www…….” to understand that the information that has been presented is often not the full story, that there is another source for that information, that there is a greater volume of detail of information about the topic at that source and finally that everyone is going to be able to access that source. The source, of course, is Internet-based and so the expectation is that detailed information can be found on the Internet. The assumption that drives that expectation is that everyone has access to the Internet and despite the fact that Internet uptake in New Zealand is high we know that is not the case.

Another aspect of information expectation is that of immediacy. Exponential dissemination couple with searchability and retrievability make information almost instantly available. The ability that large segments of the population have to be able to fact-check on the spot means that we are reluctant to wait for the 6 O’clock news or the next edition of the newspaper. Indeed, with online versions of newspapers readily available the presence of the newspaper on the breakfast table has become redundant and is replaced by the iPad with access not to one newspaper but to thousands.

Our expectations of information are shaped, as McLuhan observed, by the very underlying qualities of the technology that we fail to understand or recognize because we are fascinated by and are continually seeking out content.

Information Expectations and the Courts in Covid 19

The Covid 19 crisis in New Zealand and indeed in many other countries forced Courts to examine how they communicated at a time of extreme social distancing and lockdown which restricted travel and availability of counsel and participants in Court proceedings. Audio Visual Link (AVL) appearances by prisoners in custodial remand had become routine following the introduction of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010[37].

The technology that was available for AVL did not allow for multi-party participation and the Ministry of Justice had to move swiftly to find some tool that could allow for virtual appearances. It was necessary to scale back the types of cases that could be heard during the most extreme phase of lockdown but the use of conferencing software enabled multi-party participation in those cases that were heard.

As the restrictions have eased the level of personal participation in Court proceedings has increased. It is still possible, and for many lawyers preferable, to appear remotely where that is appropriate.

A consideration of the information expectations that arose as a result of the use of remote technology for Court appearances demonstrate how information expectations morph into behavioural patterns.

  1. That it could be done in the first place
  2. That, apart from some initial technical difficulties, it provided workable solution
  3. That it enabled a court appearance without the necessity for travel to and from Court
  4. That it enabled a number of court appearances in sequence and by appointment that might have taken a considerable amount of travel time to accomplish were they to have been in person
  5. That in between virtual or remote appearances there were opportunities to attend to other work thus maximizing productive time
  6. Importantly that a remote appearance did not do violence to the Court process or to other aspects of the Rule of Law

The wider use of remote technology developed within an existing legal and statutory framework that gave it legitimacy but was accelerated and indeed proven effective by a crisis.

Although this cannot be said to be a perfect means for introducing technological change it was necessary for the continuing function of the Courts. The duration of the lockdown and Alert Levels in New Zealand have not allowed for the use of remote technologies to become firmly embedded in the process and it is a matter of regret for some that the Heads of Bench prefer a move back to “in person” appearances when the requirements of Alert Level allow it.

This challenges the expectations that many lawyers have developed around the use and effectiveness of remote court technologies and will be seen as many as a retrograde step that ignores the way in which the effective communication of information in the Court process may develop, notwithstanding statutory provisions to the contrary.

Final Thoughts on Cultural Change

In the conclusion to my book Collisions in the Digital Paradigm I made the following observations.

“Digital information systems have revolutionised our approaches to information in all its aspects. This revolution has ushered in a paradigmatic change in the way in which we communicate and deal with information. This has had an impact upon law and upon lawyers.

Legislators, wedded to a process that is by its very nature deliberate and deliberative, struggle to make rules that are applicable for the foreseeable future. The problem with that this process is that it collides with continuing disruptive change and a society the dynamic of which is in a continuing state of flux as the next new “new thing” comes along. And change is incredibly fast. Facebook was founded in 2004. [Sixteen] years later it has become almost the “establishment” of social media platforms.

Judges develop rules on a case by case basis while, on occasion, developing broad principles applicable to certain type of activity. There are a number of limitations to the judicial process in developing rules for a rapidly developing paradigm. One is that cases are decided upon the evidence that is available – within the parameters of the pleadings, issues and argument. And on occasion that evidence may be limited, incomplete or misunderstood. Another limitation lies in the judicial process and the care that must be employed in ensuring that the examples and illustrations used in judicial reasoning are applicable and appropriate. A third lies in the fact that cases decided about one technology may not be applicable to another. And then there is the problem of too much information which may obstruct the development of principle based precedent.

For lawyers, for whom information rather than time is stock-in-trade, the new paradigm has been challenging. But on the positive side lawyers have available more information, more means of communicating more quickly, more opportunities to enhance workflow methods, to automate the standard and repetitive tasks so that they may focus upon the areas of work that require the delicate, specialist, case specific approaches to client problems, to obtain information from a myriad of alternative sources and to communicate that information along the various flow paths to clients, to colleagues and to courts as the case may be. And one of the stunning successes that has been achieved by lawyers and rule makers in the law and technology field has been the development of e-discovery rules. Technology has not only driven change. It has, in some jurisdictions, been the catalyst for innovative approaches to fundamental discovery principles.

Technology is not the master. It is a servant. But as the printing press was described as an agent of change in the early-modern period, so the development of information technologies based on digital systems are agents of change. I suggest that the agency is perhaps more powerful than that of the printing press, simply because the qualities that underlie digital systems and that acts as enablers of behaviour are more powerful than those of print.

The pervasive way in which digital technologies have inserted themselves into our lives means that their influence, although obvious in some contexts, will be more nuanced in others. The influence of technology on behavioural norms and the values that accompany new behaviours and that underpin law is a continuing story and will be for some time. The long-term impact of the Digital Paradigm may be much wider than we may think at present.

When I looked at the changes that took place when lawyers encountered the first information technology – the printing press – I noted that change was gradual, incremental and slowly progressive, marked by co-existence with earlier information systems. Certainly co-existence of technologies is still a reality. As I looked out over my Law and IT class, among the host of laptops were students still employing scribal note-taking techniques that were used before the advent of print.

But unlike the early-modern period the pace of change in the new millennium has been infinitely faster and many lawyers have adopted and deployed new technologies with enthusiasm. These practitioners are probably the exception for lawyers and judges are not renowned for technological enthusiasm and technology driven innovation.

But if law and rule making in the digital paradigm is going to develop properly – at both the legislative and judicial level – there must be a proper understanding not only of what the technology can do but how it does it and the way in which the properties of digital technologies impact upon our pre-conceived understanding of information and its use. The message is in the medium and it is the medium – the technology – that must be understood. And care must be taken not to obstruct the potential and the opportunities that the technology may make available for society.

As with an understanding of technology so a recognition of the benefits that technology may bring to the table not only of substantive law but of the Rule of Law itself. Perhaps one of the most encouraging developments in the law and technology field is that of the moves towards on-line systems to enable citizens to seek remedies to which they may not otherwise have available as a result of cost, location or a lack of understanding. The development of on-line dispute resolution using technology – be it by means of private arbitration or mediation or by the provision of on-line courts by the State – may well revolutionise our understanding of access to justice and become the high point of technology use in the law.”

Recognising Cultural Artifacts.

The development of remote working within Court was, as I have observed, born out of necessity although it was foreshadowed as long ago as 2010. As I have demonstrated in this paper, many of the important and significant aspects of the Court within the legal structure do not depend upon imagery and symbols, upon building and icons, upon physical presence and performance. These are cultural artifacts that are unnecessary to the proper performance of the Court as a manifestation of an ordered society under the Rule of Law

In saying this I do not understate the vital importance of the function of the Court in society rather than as a symbol. The Court must continue to be seen as a place of resort for citizens – the alternative to the rule of the mob or the rule of the vigilante. In many respects the Rule of Law survives, although as we have seen in recent riots around the world the veneer of civilized behaviour is thin, because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. Yet it must be a matter of concern that there are occasions when mass behaviour renders the Rule of Law, adherence to the law and its enforcement powerless – an outcome which although rejected by politicians is, by their inaction, condoned.

The Rule of Law, in addition to those matters identified by the Chief Justice, requires acceptance. Acceptance is demonstrated by a recognition that it is the Court that will achieve adherence to the law by ensuring just processes and outcomes. Acceptance is critical, as is the case with all systems of authority, lest it become a tyranny. And in doing so the Court must employ systems that are apposite, understandable and relevant. For the new generation of Digital Natives, the rejection by the Justice System of means of communication and information sharing that are part and parcel of their paradigm will render that system quaint, old fashioned, out of date and irrelevant to their needs and expectations of how an information sharing system should work.

In saying this I do not for one moment propose nor indeed suggest that the justice system is perfect. It is, after all, a human construct, despite all the mythology, iconography, tradition and symbolism. I am not one of those transcendentalists who set their sights on an idealized concept of a just court service.

Rather I consider Voltaire’s observation that “the best is the enemy of the good” – what Professor Susskind refers to as Voltaire’s Riposte – as applicable to the way that we develop Court processes. Susskind uses Voltaire’s Riposte in the context of online courts.[38] I shall apply it to remote court hearings. Although a remote appearances may have some drawbacks, they will amount to an improvement on a system that struggles to properly schedule and dispose of cases in a manner that is suitable to participants. Remote working means that there may be participation without the attendant logistics of attending a centrally located building

Remote working will also provide a satisfactory means by which there will be better access to the services that the Court provides and that presently require the disincentive of personal appearance with all its attendant difficulties.

The Courts can be improved and it is conceded that remote working is not going to make our Court system the best. But it will enhance the Court system by making it better than it is at the moment, thus maintaining what is good but recognizing that the best is unattainable. Consistent with Voltaire’s Riposte remote working opens a new way of working which must be better than the old.

Conclusion

In this paper I have advocated the use of technology in the Courts to provide an alternative way of allowing appearances at Court. I have not gone so far as to advocate an Online Court. That is for the future.

Remote working is authorized by statute and the technology for it is available. It conforms with some of the fundamental procedural requirements that underpin our perceptions of the Rule of Law.

I have been critical of the support for maintaining present Court practices to the exclusion of alternatives. I make no apology for that stance. I fail to see how appeals to tradition and a reliance upon a form of cultural mythology about the “majesty of the law” can exclude the use of systems that demonstrably enhance the way that the law can work and be effective, can be meaningful and can be relevant.

I do not suggest for one moment that remote working should be used for criminal jury trials. There is limited provision for its use in Judge Alone criminal trials. There will be other processes where it will not be useful or apposite. But those occasional circumstances should not dictate that remote working has absolutely no place in the Court system.

Rather I advocate that it is one of the smorgasbord of technological communications tools that is available for a system that depends upon the effective communication of information.


[1] Dame Helen Winkelmann “A Framework for the future; Technology and the Rule of Law”, delivered to the Australasian Supreme and Federal Court Judges’ Conference in Canberra on 20 January 2020 

[2] Dame Helen Winkelmann ““Bringing the Defendant Back into the Room” Criminal Bar Association Keynote Address 3 August 2019 https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/assets/speechpapers/Keynote-speech-Annual-CBA.pdf (last accessed 11 June 2020)

[3] Richard Susskind Online Courts and the Future of Justice (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019) p. 194.

[4] The audio is still available from the website of the 9th Circuit http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/media/2017/02/07/17-35105.mp3 (last accessed 15 March 2017)

[5] Richard Susskind Online Courts and the Future of Justice (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019) p. 203

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbqHG1m4alE&list=PLNaT-ciUkjcf5ii_CSGP8BleRpTOiVkkv (last accessed 5 June 2020)

[7] https://live.nzso.co.nz/

[8] Given that historically clerics comprised a large part of what could be considered the medieval legal profession, some might think that apart from secularization, not a lot has changed.

[9] Lambie and Hyland “The Opportunity of a Lifetime” [2019] NZLJ at 223.

[10] Professor Richard Susskind  Evidence before the House of Lords Constitutional Committee Inquiry into the Constitutional Implications of COVID 19 3 June 2020 reported in Legal Futures 4 June 2020 https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/remote-hearings-can-deal-with-credibility-issues (last accessed 5 June 2020

Giving evidence before the House of Lords Constitutional Committee, Professor Richard Susskind observed that people should not presume that remote hearings cannot be used for cases where the credibility of witnesses is at stake. He stated that lawyers from around the world reported that a full-screen view of a witness brought them closer to the “whites of their eyes” than being in the courtroom. The difference between looking at someone “the size of a postage stamp” and “filling the entire screen” was “manifest”.

“What is coming through, and this is a global experience, is that many attorneys from the United States and around the world are reporting that, actually, they find video remarkably effective and they can get nearer to the whites of their eyes than in the courtroom.

“I don’t think we should make assumptions – clearly we need systematic data on this – that if there are questions of credibility, there is no way this can achieved through a video hearing.”

“As a generality across the world, video systems seemed to have worked quite well with large, complex commercial cases. The judge will have the discretion to decide which hearing mechanism is appropriate.”

“But I do find it fascinating from the feedback that people are expressing surprise that from the video hearing you can get a real sense of the person’s credibility and their demeanour, by looking at them on quite a high definition screen where the video is quite close to their face.”

[11] For a discussion of the nature of the confrontation right and the issues of presence see David Harvey Collisios in the Digital Paradigm: Law and Rulemaking in the Internet Age (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017) p, 213 – 214. I argue that our view of the “confrontation right” is based on faulty premises about its historical background. This erroneous foundation has permeated our thinking about the importance of the confrontation right to the point where, in New Zealand the presence of an accused and witnesses is statutorily enshrined both in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (s. 25(e) )and in the Evidence Act 2006.(s. 83(1)).

[12] Ian Lambie and Olivia Hyland “The Opportunity of a Lifetime” [2019] NZLJ 220 and Ian Lambie and Olivia Hyland “I am more than a piece of paper” [2019] NZLJ 297.

[13] Andrew Langdon Inaugural Address 14 December 2016 Middle Temple Hall http://www.barristermagazine.com/inaugural-address-by-andrew-langdon-qc-chairman-of-the-bar-2017-delivered-in-middle-temple-hall-london-on-14-december-2016/ (last accessed 5 June 2020)

[14] Professor Richard Susskind  Evidence before the House of Lords Constitutional Committee Inquiry into the Constitutional Implications of COVID 19 3 June 2020

[15] A proposition put by Andrew Langdon QC in his Inaugural Address

[16] See in particular Robert Fisher QC “The Demeanour Fallacy” [2014] NZ Law Review 575 at 582. See also Chris Gallavin “Demeanour Evidence as the backbone of the adversarial process” Lawtalk Issue 834 14 March 2014 http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/lawtalk/issue-837/demeanour-evidence-as-the-backbone-of-the-adversarial-process (last accessed 20 June 2014); Professor Ian R Coyle “How Do Decision Makers Decide When Witnesses Are Telling The Truth And What Can Be Done To Improve Their Accuracy In Making Assessments Of Witness Credibility?” Report to the Criminal Lawyers Association of Australia and New Zealand” 3 April 2013 p. 8; On the subject of demeanour generally see Professor Coyles extensive bibliography. See also Lindsley Smith   ”Juror Assessment of Veracity, Deception, and Credibility,” (2002) 4 Communication LR 45 http://commlawreview.org/Archives/v4i1/Juror%20Assessment%20of%20Veracity.pdf (last accessed 18  August 2014) See also David Harvey Collisions in the Digital Paradigm: Law and Rulemaking in the Internet Age (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019) Chapter 8 p. 211 et seq

[17] [1765] EWHC KB J98

[18] David Nelken ‘Using the Concept of Legal Culture’, (2004) Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy 29: I-26

[19] F Lederer “The Courtroom as a Stop on the Information Superhighway” (1997) 4 Aust Jnl L Reform 71.

[20] The smaller and more routine legal disputes were conducted in the manorial courts or before Justices of the Peace. Michael Dalton’s The Countrey Justice (Adam Islip for the Stationers, London,1614) was a handbook for the standard procedures that Dalton saw as critical to the proper running of such Courts.

[21] The Court of Star Chamber was a Court that did much of its business from written material rather than emphasizing the oral processes that were a feature of the Royal Courts, but Star Chamber met its demise in 1642 and the Royal Courts assumed the dominant position still with their focus primarily on oral argument.

[22] For a discussion of the impact of the printing press on law and legal culture see David Harvey The Law Emprynted and Englysshed: The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in Law and Legal Culture (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2014)

[23] For a very detailed study of the management of image by the Tudors and Stuarts see Kevin Sharpe Selling the Tudor Monarchy (Yale University Press, New Haven 2009) Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England 1603 – 1660 (Yale University Press, New Haven 2010) and Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy 1660 – 1714 (Yale University Press, New Haven 2013).

[24] More frequently seen in representations after the introduction of the printing press.

[25] For a detailed discussion of the iconography and representations of justice in architecture see Resnik and Curtis Representations of Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms. (Yale University Press, New Haven Connecticut 2011) Their principal thesis is that ‘the forms in which governments represent themselves provide windows into their aspirations. For further reading see David DesBaillets “Representing Canadian Justice: legal iconography and symbolism in the Supreme Court of Canada” (2018) 14 International Jnl of Law in Context 132 – 156 available online at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-law-in-context/article/representing-canadian-justice-legal-iconography-and-symbolism-at-the-supreme-court-of-canada/75886182BB2B238C0E79B8C61861A819/core-reader (last accessed 6 June 2020)

[26] The design of the New Zealand Supreme Court Building is imposing and architecturally unique, especially in its design of the Courtroom but consciously adopts motifs and styles reflecting the multi-cultural community of New Zealand. Nevertheless the motif of the pillars as the supporters of the structure of justice, together with a more localized type of entablature rather than a traditional or classical one are present in the New Zealand Supreme Court building.

[27] Turkuler Israel “Review: Representing Justice: Invention, controversy and rights in city-states and democratic courtrooms” (2013) 12 Contemporary Political Theory p. e.10 – e.13

[28] The use of powerpoint or presentation software is an example of innovation in advocacy, although one that was initially contentious – see R v Haanstra HC Wellington T1155/00, 16 November 2000; R v D CA80/04 8 December 2004; R v Harriman HC Auckland CRI-2005-004-14921, 15 December 2006; R v Tukuafu [2003] 1 NZLR 659 (CA).

The use of electronic bundles is another innovation although the protocols require an approach that is imitative of the hardcopy Eastlight folders. See Senior Courts Civil Electronic Document Protocol 2019 https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/assets/going-to-court/practice-directions/practice-notes/all-benches/scced_0.pdf (last accessed 14 June 2020).

[29] Resnik and Curtis Representations of Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms. (Yale University Press, New Haven Connecticut 2011) p. 339.

[30] Andrew Langdon QC Inaugural Address 14 December 2016 Middle Temple Hall http://www.barristermagazine.com/inaugural-address-by-andrew-langdon-qc-chairman-of-the-bar-2017-delivered-in-middle-temple-hall-london-on-14-december-2016/ (last accessed 5 June 2020

[31] Richard Susskind Online Courts and the Future of Justice (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019) p. 208.

[32] For a full discussion see David Harvey The Law Emprynted and Englysshed: The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in Law and Legal Culture (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2014) and for the qualities of the printing press Elizabeth Eisenstein The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1 Vol) (Cambridge university Press, Cambridge 1980) esp at chapter 2 page 43 et seq

[33] See John Langbein The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2003)

[34] The argument is developed in David Harvey Collisions in the Digital Paradigm: Law and Rulemaking in the Internet Age (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017) at Chapter 2. I identify a taxonomy of 13 qualities which dramatically, paradigmatically, differ digital technologies from those that have gone before. The taxonomy for these qualities suggests three major classifications based upon the nature of the qualities. These classifications I have described as “Environmental”, “Technical” and “User Associated.”

The environmental qualities relate to change and the drivers for change. They are continuing disruptive change and permissionless innovation. The technical qualities are underlying aspects of the way in which Digital Communications Technologies, and especially the Internet, work. They are delineaisation of information, information persistence or endurance, dynamic information, volume and capacity, exponential dissemination, the non-coherence of digital information and format obsolescence. The final set of the three categories of qualities – user associated qualities – involve the way in which digital technologies provide opportunities for users to locate, acquire and process information The first three qualities, which I have grouped together because they represent a continuum, perhaps are indicative of the nature of a cross-over between what could be considered technical qualities – something inherent in the technology – and qualities that are primarily user focussed. The final quality relates to the way in which the Digital Paradigm enables information creation in a multi-authorial sense. They are the availability, searchability and retrievability of information, participation and interactivity

[35] Marc Prensky “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (2001) 9 On the Horizon 1 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=1074-&121&volume=9&issue=5&articleid=1532742&show=pdf ; www.marcprensky.com/…/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf   (last accessed 23 February 2012). 

For a brief introduction to the development of Prensky’s theory see Wikipedia “Digital Native” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_native (last accessed 23 February 2012).

[36] Ronald Collins and David Skover The Death of Discourse (Caroline Academic Press, Durham N.C. 2005)  p. xix. For a more detailed discussion of the difference between fixed and digital texts see Ronald Collins and David Skover Paratexts (1992) 44 Stanford Law Review 509.

[37] Section 8 of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010 mandates the use of AVL in criminal procedural matters where that technology is available and the participant is in custody unless a Judge or Registrar determines otherwise. However, protocols issued by the various Heads of Bench have mandated a return to the “in person” model and indeed run counter to the position mandated by statute.

[38] Richard Susskind Online Courts and the Future of Justice (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2019) p. 182 et seq.

Lessons Unlearned

The Christchurch Call was a meeting co-hosted by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and French President, Emmanuel Macron, held in Paris on 15 May 2019. It’s a global call which aims to “bring together countries and tech companies in an attempt to bring to an end the ability to use social media to organise and promote terrorism and violent extremism.”[1]It is intended to be an ongoing process.

This piece was written at the end of last year and for one reason or another – and primarily the Covid-19 crisis – has languished. I post it now as the first anniversary of the Call approaches. The overall context is that of Internet Regulation – content or technology – and the difficulties that presents.

Introduction

The Christchurch Call is not the first attempt to regulate or control Internet based content. It will not be the last. And, despite its aim to reduce or eliminate the use of social media to organize and promote terrorism and violent extremism, it carries within it the seeds of its own downfall. The reason is, like so many efforts before it, the target of the Christchurch Call is content rather than technology.

Calls to regulate content and access to it have been around since the Internet went public.

The Christchurch Call is eerily familiar, not because of what motivated and inspired it, but because it represents an effort by Governments and States to address perceived problems posed by Internet based content.

In 2011 a similar effort was led by then French President Nicholas Sarkozy at the economic summit at Deauville – is it a co-incidence that once again the French are leaders in this present initiative? So what was the Deauville initiative all about?

Deauville May 2011

The Background

In 2011 and 2012 there were renewed calls for greater regulation of the Internet. That these were driven by the events in the Middle East early in 2011 which became known as the “Arab Spring” seems more than coincidental. The “Arab Spring” is a term that refers to anti-government protests that spread across the Middle East. These followed a successful uprising in Tunisia against former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali which emboldened similar anti-government protests in a number of Arab countries. The protests were characterised by the extensive use of social media to organise gatherings and spread awareness. There has, however, been some debate about the influence of social media on the political activism of the Arab Spring. Some critics contend that digital technologies and other forms of communication — videos, cellular phones, blogs, photos and SMS messages— have brought about the concept of a “digital democracy” in parts of North Africa affected by the uprisings. Others have claimed that in order to understand the role of social media during the Arab Spring there is context of high rates of unemployment and corrupt political regimes which led to dissent movements within the region. There is certainly evidence of an increased uptake of Internet and social media usage over the period of the events, and during the uprising in Egypt; then President Mubarak’s State Security Investigations Service blocked access to Twitter and Facebook and on 27 January 2011 the Egyptian Government shut down the Internet in Egypt along with SMS messaging.

Sarkozy’s Initiative

In May 2011 at the first e-G8 Forum, before the G8 summit in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a provocative call for stronger Internet regulation. Mr Sarkozy convened a special gathering of global “digerati” in Paris and called the rise of the Internet a “revolution” as significant as the age of exploration and the industrial revolution.

This revolution did not have a flag and Mr Sarkozy acknowledged that the Internet belonged to everyone, citing the Arab Spring as a positive example. However, he warned executives of Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay who were present:

“The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy.”

Mr Sarkozy was not alone in calling existing laws and regulations inadequate to deal with the challenges of a borderless digital world. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain stated that he would ask Parliament to review British privacy laws after Twitter users circumvented court orders preventing newspapers from publishing the names of public figures who are suspected of having had extramarital affairs, but he did not go as far as Mr Sarkozy who was pushing for a “civilized Internet” implying wide regulation.

However, the Deauville Communique did not extend as far as Mr Sarkozy may have liked. It affirmed the importance of intellectual property protection, the effective protection of personal data and individual privacy, security of networks, and a crackdown on trafficking in children for sexual exploitation; however it did not advocate state control of the Internet but staked out a role for governments.

Deauville was not an end to the matter. The appetite for Internet regulation by domestic governments had just been whetted. This was demonstrated by the events at the ITU meeting in Dubai in 2012

The ITU meeting in Dubai December 2012

The meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai provided the forum for further consideration of expanded Internet regulation. No less an authority than Vinton Cerf, the co-developer with Robert Kahn of the TCP/IP protocol which was one of the important technologies that made the Internet possible, sounded a warning when he said:

“But today, despite the significant positive impact of the Internet on the world’s economy, this amazing technology stands at a crossroads. The Internet’s success has generated a worrying desire by some countries’ governments to create new international rules that would jeopardize the network’s innovative evolution and its multi-faceted success.

This effort is manifesting itself in the UN General Assembly and at the International Telecommunication Union — the ITU — a United Nations organization that counts 193 countries as its members, each holding one vote. The ITU currently is conducting a review of the international agreements governing telecommunications and it aims to expand its regulatory authority to include the Internet at a treaty summit scheduled for December of this year in Dubai….”

Today, the ITU focuses on telecommunication networks, radio frequency allocation, and infrastructure development. But some powerful member countries saw an opportunity to create regulatory authority over the Internet. In June 2012, the Russian government stated its goal of establishing international control over the Internet through the ITU. Then, in September 2012, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — which counts China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan among its members — submitted a proposal to the UN General Assembly for an “international Code of Conduct for Information Security.” The organization’s stated goal was to establish government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.” Other proposals of a similar character have emerged from India and Brazil. And in an October 2010 meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, the ITU itself adopted a specific proposal to “increase the role of ITU in Internet governance.”

As a result of these efforts, there was a strong possibility that the ITU would significantly amend the International Telecommunication Regulations — a multilateral treaty last revised in 1988 — in a way that authorizes increased ITU and member state control over the Internet. These proposals, if they had been implemented, would have changed the foundational structure of the Internet that has historically led to unprecedented worldwide innovation and economic growth.

What is the ITU?

The ITU, originally the International Telegraph Union, is a specialised agency of the United Nations and is responsible for issues concerning information and communication technologies. It was originally founded in 1865 and in the past has been concerned with technical communications issues such as standardisation of communications protocols (which was one of its original purposes), the management of the international radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources and the fostering of sustainable, affordable access to information and communication technology. It took its present name in 1934 and in 1947 became a specialised agency of the United Nations.

The position of the ITU approaching the 2012 meeting in Dubai was that, given the vast changes that had taken place in the world of telecommunications and information technologies, the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) that had been revised in 1988 were no longer in keeping with modern developments. Thus, the objective of the 2012 meeting was to revise the ITRs to suit the new age. After a controversial meeting in Dubai in December 2012, the Final Acts of the Conference were published. The controversial issue was that there was a proposal to redefine the Internet as a system of government-controlled, state-supervised networks. The proposal was contained in a leaked document by a group of members including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. However, the proposal was withdrawn. But the governance model defined the Internet as an “international conglomeration of interconnected telecommunication networks”, and that “Internet governance shall be effected through the development and application by governments” with member states having “the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of Internet governance”.

This wide-ranging proposal went well beyond the traditional role of the ITU, and other members such as the United States, European countries, Australia, New Zealand and Japan insisted that the ITU treaty should apply to traditional telecommunications systems. The resolution that won majority support towards the end of the conference stated that the ITU’s leadership should “continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet.”

However, the Treaty did not receive universal acclaim. United States Ambassador Kramer announced that the US would not be signing the new treaty. He was followed by the United Kingdom. Sweden said that it would need to consult with its capital (code in UN-speak for “not signing”). Canada, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Kenya, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic all made similar statements. In all, 89 countries signed while 55 did not.

From the Conference three different versions of political power vis-à-vis the Internet became clear. Cyber sovereignty states such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia advocated that the mandate of the ITU be extended to include Internet governance issues. The United States and allied predominantly Western states were of the view that the current multi-stakeholder processes should remain in place. States such as Brazil, South Africa and Egypt rejected the concept of Internet censorship and closed networks but expressed concern at what appeared to be United States dominance of aspects of Internet management.

In 2014 at the NETmundial Conference the multi-stakeholder model was endorsed, recognising that the Internet was a global resource and should be managed in the public interest.

The Impact of International Internet Governance

Issues surrounding Internet Governance are important in this discussion because issues of Internet control will directly impact upon content delivery and will thus have an impact upon freedom of expression in its widest sense. 

Rules surrounding global media governance do not exist. The current model based on localised rule systems and the lack of harmonisation arise from differing cultural and social perceptions as to media content. Although the Internet- based technologies have the means to provide a level of technical regulation such as code itself, digital rights management and internet filtering, and the larger issue of control of the distribution system poses an entirely novel set of issues that have not been encountered by traditional localised print and broadcast systems.

The Internet separates the medium from the message and issues of Internet governance will have a significant impact upon the means and scope of content delivery. From the perspective of media freedom and freedom of expression, Internet governance is a matter that will require close attention. As matters stand at the moment the issue of who rules the channels of communication is a work in progress.

Quite clearly there is a considerable amount of concern about the way in which national governments wish to regulate, or in some way govern and control, the Internet. Although at first glance this may seem to be directed at the content of content passing through a new communications technology, the attempt to regulate through a technological forum such as the ITU clearly demonstrates that governments wish to control not only content but the various transmission and protocol layers of the Internet and possibly even the backbone itself. The Christchurch Call is merely a continuation of that desire by governments to regulate and control the Internet.

Resisting Regulation

The early history of the commercial Internet reveals a calculated effort to ensure that the new technology was not the subject of regulation. The Progress and Freedom Foundation, established in 1993, had an objective of ensuring that, unlike radio or television, the new medium would lie beyond the realm of government regulation. At a meeting in 1994, attended by futurists Alvin Toffler and Esther Dyson along with George Keyworth, President Reagan’s former science adviser, a Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age contended that although the industrial age may have required some form of regulation, the knowledge age did not. If there was to be an industrial policy for the knowledge age, it should focus on removing barriers to competition and massively deregulating the telecommunications and computing industries.

On 8 February 1996 the objectives of the Progress and Freedom Foundation became a reality when President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. This legislation effectively deregulated the entire communications industry, allowed for the subsequent consolidation of media companies and prohibiting regulation of the Internet. On the same day, as a statement of disapproval that the US government would even regulate by deregulating, John Perry Barlow released his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Small wonder that the United States of America resists attempts at Internet regulation. But the problem is more significant than the will or lack of will to regulate. The problem lies within the technology itself and although efforts such as Deauville, Dubai, the NetMundial Conference and the Christchurch Call may focus on content, this is merely what Marshall McLuhan termed the meat that attracts the lazy dog of the mind. To regulate content requires an understanding and appreciation of some of the deeper aspects or qualities of the new communications technology. Once these are understood, the magnitude of the task becomes apparent and the practicality of effectively achieving regulation of communications runs up against the fundamental values of Western liberal democracies.

Permissionless Innovation

One characteristic of the Digital Paradigm is that of permissionless innovation. No approvals are need for developers to connect an application or a platform to the backbone of the Internet. All that is required is that the application comply with standards set by Internet engineers and essentially these standards ensure that an application will be compatible with Internet protocols.

No licences are required to connect an application. No regulatory approvals are needed. A business plan need not be submitted for bureaucratic fiat. Permissive innovation has been a characteristic of the Internet and it has allowed the Internet to grow. It allowed for the development of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that allowed for the development of the World Wide Web – the most familiar aspect of the Internet today. It allowed for the development of a myriad of social media platforms. It co-exists with another quality of the Internet which is that of continuing disruptive change – the reality that the environment is not static and does not stand still.

Targetting the most popular social media platforms will only address a part of the problem. Permissionless innovation means that the leading platforms may modify their algorithms to try and capture extreme content but this is a less than subtle solution and is prone to the error of false positives.

Permissionless innovation and the ability to develop and continue to develop other social media platforms brings into play Michael Froomkin’s theory of regulatory arbitrage – where users will migrate to the environment that most suits them. Should the major players so regulate their platforms that desired aspects are no longer available, users may choose to use other platforms which will be more “user friendly” or attuned to their needs.

The question that arises from this aspect of the Digital Paradigm is how one regulates permissive innovation, given its critical position in the development of communications protocols. To constrain it, to tie it up in the red tape that accompanies broadcast licences and the like would strangle technological innovation, evolution and development. To interfere with permissionless innovation would strangle the continuing promise of the Internet as a developing communications medium.

Content Dynamics

An aspect of content on the Internet is what could be termed persistence of information. Once information reaches the Internet it is very difficult to remove it because it may spread through the vast network of computers that comprise the Internet and maybe retained on any one of the by the quality of exponential dissemination discussed below, despite the phenomenon of “link rot.”  It has been summed up in another way by the phrase “the document that does not die.” Although on occasions it may be difficult to locate information, the quality of information persistence means that it will be on the Internet somewhere.  This emphasises the quality of permanence of recorded information that has been a characteristic of that form of information ever since people started putting chisel to stone, wedge to clay or pen to papyrus.  Information persistence means that the information is there but if it has become difficult to locate,and  retrieving it may resemble the digital equivalent of an archaeological expedition, although the spade and trowel are replaced by the search engine.  The fact that information is persistent means that it is capable of location.

In some respects the dynamic nature of information challenges the concept of information persistence because digital content may change.  It could be argued that this seems to be more about the nature of content, but the technology itself underpins and facilitates this quality as it does with many others.

An example of dynamic information may be found in the on-line newspaper which may break a story at 10am, receive information on the topic by midday and by 1pm on the same day have modified the original story.  The static nature of print and the newspaper business model that it enabled meant that the news cycle ran from edition to edition. The dynamic quality of information in the Digital Paradigm means that the news cycle potentially may run on a 24 hour basis, with updates every five minutes.

Similarly, the ability that digital technologies have for contributing dialog on any topic enabled in many communication protocols, primarily as a result of Web 2.0, means that an initial statement may undergo a considerable amount of debate, discussion and dispute, resulting ultimately in change.  This dynamic nature of information challenges the permanence that one may expect from persistence and it is acknowledged immediately that there is a significant tension between the dynamic nature of digital information and the concept of the “document that does not die”.

Part of the dynamic of the digital environment is that information is copied when it is transmitted to a user’s computer.  Thus there is the potential for information to be other than static.  If I receive a digital copy I can make another copy of it or, alternatively, alter it and communicate the new version.  Reliance upon the print medium has been based upon the fact that every copy of a particular edition is identical until the next edition.  In the digital paradigm authors and publishers can control content from minute to minute.

In the digital environment individual users may modify information at a computer terminal to meet whatever need may be required.  In this respect the digital reader becomes something akin to a glossator of the scribal culture, the difference being that the original text vanishes and is replaced with the amended copy.  Thus one may, with reason, validly doubt the validity or authenticity of information as it is transmitted.

Let us assume for the moment that a content moderation policy by a search engine or a social media platform can be developed that will identify extreme content and return a “null” result. These policies will often if not always have identifiable gaps. If the policy relates to breaches of terms of use, how often are these breaches subject to human review which is often more nuanced than an algorithm. Often “coded language” may be used as alternatives to extreme content. Because of the context-specific nature of the coded language and the fact that it is not typically directed at a vulnerable group, targetted posts would in most instances not trigger social media platform content rules even if they were more systematically flagged. In addition the existence of “net centers” that coordinate attacks using hundreds of accounts result in broad dissemination of harmful posts which are harder to remove. Speech that is removed may be reposted using different accounts. Finally, content moderation policies of some social media providers do not provide a means for considering the status of the speaker in evaluating the harmful impact the speech may have, and it is widely recognized in the social science literature that speakers with authority have greater influence on behavior.

Exponential Dissemination

Dissemination was one of the leading qualities of print identified by Elizabeth Eisenstein in her study of the printing press as an agent of change, and it has been a characteristic of all information technologies since. What the internet and digital technologies enable is a form of dissemination that has two elements.

One element is the appearance that information is transmitted instantaneously to both an active (on-line recipient) and a passive (potentially on-line but awaiting) audience. Consider the example of an e-mail. The speed of transmission of emails seems to be instantaneous (in fact it is not) but that enhances our expectations of a prompt response and concern when there is not one. More important, however, is that a matter of interest to one email recipient may mean that the email is forwarded to a number of recipients unknown to the original sender. Instant messaging is so-called because it is instant and a complex piece of information may be made available via a link by Twitter to a group of followers which may then be retweeted to an exponentially larger audience.

The second element deals with what may be called the democratization of information dissemination. This aspect of exponential dissemination exemplifies a fundamental difference between digital information systems and communication media that have gone before. In the past information dissemination has been an expensive business. Publishing, broadcast, record and CD production and the like are capital intensive businesses. It used to (and still does)  cost a large amount of money and required a significant infrastructure to be involved in information gathering and dissemination. There were a few exceptions such as very small scale publishing using duplicators, carbon paper and samizdats but in these cases dissemination was very small. Another aspect of early information communication technologies is that they involved a monolithic centralized communication to a distributed audience. The model essentially was one of “one to many” communication or information flow.

The Internet turns that model on its head. The Internet enables a “many to many” communication or information flow  with the added ability on the part of recipients of information to “republish” or “rebroadcast”. It has been recognized that the Internet allows everyone to become a publisher. No longer is information dissemination centralized and controlled by a large publishing house, a TV or radio station or indeed the State. It is in the hands of users. Indeed, news organizations regularly source material from Facebook, YouTube or from information that is distributed on the Internet by Citizen Journalists. Once the information has been communicated it can “go viral” a term used to describe the phenomenon of exponential dissemination as Internet users share information via e-mail, social networking sites or other Internet information sharing protocols. This in turn exacerbates the earlier quality of Information Persistence or “the document that does not die” in that once information has been subjected to Exponential Dissemination it is almost impossible to retrieve it or eliminate it.

It can be seen from this discussion that dissemination is not limited to the “on-line establishment” of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and trying the address the dissemination of extreme content by attacking it through ”established” platforms will not eliminate it – just slow down the dissemination process. It will present and obstruction as in fact on-line censorship is just that – an obstruction to the information flow on the Internet. It was John Gilmore who said The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. Primarily because State-based censorship is based on a centralized model and the dissemination of information of the Internet is based upon a distributed one, effectively what happens on the Internet is content redistribution which is a reflection both of Gilmore’s adage and the quality of exponential dissemination.

The Dark Web

Finally there is the aspect of the Internet known as the Dark Web. If the searchable web comprises 10% of available Internet content there is content that is not amenable to search known as the Deep Web which encompasses sites such as LexisNexis and Westlaw if one seeks and example from the legal sphere.

The Deep Web is not the Dark Web. The Dark Web is altogether different. It is more difficult to reach than the surface or deep web, since it’s only accessible through special browsers such as the Tor browser. The dark web is the unregulated part of the internet. No organization, business or government is in charge of it or able to apply rules. This is exactly the reason why the dark web is commonly associated with illegal practices. It’s impossible to reach the dark web through a ‘normal’ browser, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Even in the Tor browser you won’t be able to find any ‘dark’ websites ending in .com or .org. Instead, URLs usually consist of a random mix of letters and numbers and end in .onion. Moreover, the URLs of websites on the dark net change regularly. If there are difficulties in regulating content via social media platforms, to do so via the Dark Web would be impossible. Yet it is within that environment that most of the extreme content may be found.

Effective Regulation

The Christchurch Call has had some very positive effects. It has drawn attention, yet again, to the problem of dissemination of extreme and terrorist content online. It should be remembered that this is not a new issue and has been in the sights of politicians since Deauville although in New Zealand, as far back as 1993, there were proposals to deal with the problems with the availability of pornography online.

Another positive outcome of the Christchurch Call has been to increase public awareness and corporate acceptance of the necessity for there to be some standards of global good citizenship on the part of large and highly profitable Internet based organisations. It is not enough for a company to have as its guiding light “do no evil” but more is required including steps to ensure that its service are not facilitating the doing of evil by others.

At the moment the Christchurch Call has adopted, at least in public, a velvet glove approach, although it is not hard to imagine that in some of the closed meetings the steel fist has been if not threatened at least uncovered. There are a number of ways that the large conglomerates might be persuaded to toe a more responsible line. One is to introduce the concept of an online duty of care as has been suggested in the United Kingdom. Although this sounds like a comfortable and simple concept, anyone who has spent some time studying the law of torts will understand that the duty of care is a highly nuanced and complex aspect of the law of obligations, and one which will require years of litigation and development before it achieves a satisfactory level of certainty.

Another way to have conglomerates toe the line is to increase the costs of doing business. Although it is in a different sphere – that of e-commerce – the recent requirement by the New Zealand Government upon overseas vendors to impose GST is an example, although I was highlighting this issue 20 years ago. Governments do not have a tendency to move fast although they do have a tendency to break things once the sleeping giant awakes.

Yet these various moves and others like them are really rather superficial and only scratch the surface of the content layer of the Internet. The question must be asked – how serious are the governments of the Christchurch Call in regulating not simply access to content by the means by which content is accessed – the technology.

The lessons of history give us some guidance. The introduction of the printing press into England was followed by 120 years of unsuccessful attempts to control the content of printed material. It was not until the Star Chamber Decrees of 1634 that the Stuart monarchy put in place some serious and far-reaching regulatory requirements to control not what was printed (although that too was the subject of the 1634 provisions) but how it was printed. The way in which the business and process of printing was regulated gave the State unprecedented control not only over content but by the means of production and dissemination of that content. The reaction against this – a process involving some many years – led to our present values that underpin freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

As new communications technologies have been developed the State has interested itself in imposing regulatory requirements. There is no permissionless innovation available in setting up a radio station or television network. The State has had a hand of varying degrees of heaviness throughout the development and availability of both these media. In 1966 there was a tremendous issue about whether or not a ship that was to be the platform for the unlicensed and therefore “pirate” radio station, Radio Hauraki would be allowed to sail. The State unsuccessfully tried to prevent this.

Once upon a time in New Zealand (and still in the United Kingdom) anyone who owned a television set had to pay a broadcasting fee. This ostensibly would be applied to the development of content but is indicative of the level of control that the State exerted. And it was not a form of content regulation. It was regulation that was applied to access to the technology.

More recently we are well aware of the so called “Great Firewall of China” – a massive state sponsored means of controlling the technology to proven access to content. And conglomerates such a Google have found that if they want to do business in China they must play by Chinese rules.

The advocacy of greater technological control has come from Russia, Brazil, India and some of the Arab countries. These States I think understand the import of McLuhan’s paradox of technology and content. The issue is whether or not the Christchurch Call is prepared to take that sort of radical step and proceed to consider technological regulation rather than step carefully around the edges of the problem.

Of course, one reason why at least some Western democracies would not wish to take such an extreme step lies in their reliance upon the Internet themselves as a means of doing business, be it by way of using the Internet for the collection of census data, for providing taxation services or online access to benefits and other government services. Indeed the use of the Internet by politicians who use their own form of argumentative speech has become the norm. Often, however, we find that the level of political debate is as banal and cliched as the platforms that are used to disseminate it. But to put it simply, where would politicians be in the second decade of the 21st Century without access to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (or whatever new flavor of platform arises as a result of permissionless innovation).

Conclusion

I think it is safe to say that the Christchurch Call is no more and no less than a very well managed and promoted public relations exercise that is superficial and will have little long term impact. It will go down in history as part of a continuing story that really started with Deauville and continues and will continue to do so.

Only when Governments are prepared to learn and apply the lessons about the Internet and the way that it works will we see effective regulatory steps instituted.

And then, when that occurs, will we realise that democracy and the freedom that we have to hold and express our own opinions is really in trouble.


[1] Internet NZ “The Christchurch Call: helping important voices be heard” https://internetnz.nz/Christchurch-Call (Last accessed 2 January 2020)

Court Hearings and Covid-19 – Another View

Many of the concerns about the use of technology in Courts raised by Dr. James Farmer QC in his blogpost “Court Hearings and Covid-19” have been ventilated before. Rather like the Chief Justice his starting point is that technology compromises certain fundamentals that underpin our adversarial system.

The major premise of the post is that the use of virtual hearing technology – even if it were reliable which he claims it is not – is inherently unable to provide a top quality judicial process in certain categories of cases. Mr Farmer refers especially to lengthy complex trials, Court of Appeal Hearings and Supreme Court hearings.

His post notes that the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court issued a Remote Hearings Protocol providing for virtual hearings (Farmer uses the adjective euphemistically but the reason for that eludes me) Remote (or virtual) hearings are provided for during the various Alert levels and I recognise that this type of hearing will not be appropriate in all circumstances.

What critics fail to recognize when the issue of online courts or remote\virtual hearings is raised is that the proposals do not represent a shift away from what could be called the normal adversarial type of hearing. Rather, virtual or remote hearings provide another means by which justice may be delivered.

From the outset I agree, as I have said, that virtual or remote hearings may not be ideal for every type of case. But there are some cases for which they will be ideal. It is completely unnecessary for counsel to trail across town from their various offices to personally attend a pre-trial conference hearing. These have been done via teleconference for many years as Dr Farmer observes.

That the technology exists to allow a video appearance may enhance the process and allow for an additional nuance that is absence in a voice-only communication. That some attempts to engage in video conferences have encountered technological difficulties is to be expected in the early use of technology.

In my view the fact that Covid-19 has forced the Courts to utilize video technology more extensively beyond the use of the dedicated AVL system is an indictment upon lack of planning and innovation. These tools have been around for a while. They should have been deployed, used and had the rough spots smoothed long ere this.

The importance of process still remains in the virtual hearing. Although the participants may not be in the same physical or geographical location the hearing itself is centralized in that all parties can see one another and the exchanges that would take place in the same location still take place in the virtual space.

Openness is straight forward. Cases can be live streamed as was the case with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals argument in State of Washington v Trump. In that case there was no courtroom. The judges were remotely located as were counsel. The audio of the argument was livestreamed. There were over 130,000 in the online audience – a few more than could sit in the courtroom in San Francisco. Similarly in New Zealand the arguments in the High Court in Ortmann v US – the Dotcom extradition case – were livestreamed on YouTube subject to certain directions from the Court. I think that we can safely say that there are technological solutions to preserve the openness of virtual hearings.

The importance of the “day in court” is present in the virtual hearing. Is it really necessary for all the parties and their witnesses to travel from their various geographical locations to a large, imposing and predominantly symbolic building, wait around for an ill-defined period of time to be heard.

The words “day in court” have become part of the popular lexicon but in fact represent another concept entirely and that is the wish, desire and indeed right of litigants to be HEARD. The importance of the day in court is the Court hearing – it is not called a hearing for nothing – and the words “Court hearing” in my view more correctly exemplify what the process is all about rather than the emotive use of the term “day in court”.

A further reality of the Court hearing is that what takes place is not an elegant forensic intellectual exercise, although it may be for some, but an process of information exchange and evaluation. In the final analysis that is what happens when client communications instructions, when a lawyer looks up a statute or a case, when that same lawyer provides advice to the client, when a lawyer files pleadings or submissions, adduces evidence from a witness or makes an argument in Court to the point when a Judge delivers a decision based on the information communicated.

In the past the nature of that process has been determined by the available technology. Pleadings were originally prepared by scribes but later were provided in typescript when the technology of the typewriter became available. Law reports did not exist until Plowden’s Commentaries in 1571 and before then the “reports” were handwritten notes circulated among coteries of lawyers. It took some time for reliable reports to be made available per medium the technology of the printing press. The photocopier has had an impact making it possible for multiple copies of papers to be provided along with voluminous attachments and cases, often to the dismay of the Judge. The mobile phone means that lawyers are available to clients 24/7 rather than Monday to Friday, 9 -5.

Yet despite the advances in communications technologies made available by developments in the Digital Paradigm, lawyers and judges seem unwilling to adopt and adapt to the new communications environment in the Court process and use new and innovative ways of doing what the job is all about – communicating information.

But in saying this I return to my major premise – not all cases are going to be amenable to virtual hearing tools.

There are some more fundamental issues that need to be considered – perhaps a little more significant than the image of the Court as a community centre or the idea that the only way we can achieve justice is by the physical presence of everyone in the same place at the same time.

The first – which has been highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis – is that of health, safety and associated with that, convenience.

Court houses are inherently unhealthy places to be – this before Covid-19. Large groups of people, many of whom are not able to afford medical care and may have communicable complaints or illnesses, are gathered together in waiting areas or courtrooms, counsel who must interview clients or take instructions in close quarters, jurors who are seated close to one another for extended periods of time – although I concede that jury trials of necessity must be in-person at this stage.

The convenience aspect, especially for busy lawyers in the District Court, has been exemplified by the use of remote hearings for administrative or routine matters which might earlier have required an appearance at several courts in, say, the Auckland region, but which can be dealt with expeditiously by a remote hearing where counsel does not have to leave the office. All “appearances” have been expeditiously completed in a morning – no travel involved.

A second aspect of the use of technology in Courts, highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis but not referred to by Dr Farmer, has been the development of ad hoc electronic filing solutions. I have referred to this in an earlier post.

All courts must have a record. These comprise the pleadings and associated documents and applications relevant to a case. In the past these records of court files were filed manually in hard copy across the counter. This still occurs although in many cases electronic copies may be sent to the court in PDF format as email attachments. In the Disputes Tribunal in New Zealand there is provision for creating an application using on-line forms. The e-document so created is then printed out and sent to the appropriate Court office, simply because there is not a system that allows for an electronic file (e-file).

As I have said, ad hoc e-filing solutions involving the use of attachments to emails, and, as proposed by the Defence Lawyers Association, the use of a dedicated email e-filing address, have been developed.

There is a solution that allows for the creation of an e-file that is readily accessible by the parties and the Court, that can be integrated into a courts management system, that is not “rule specific” in that it can be used within the context or court rules that allow electronic filing, that does not require major infrastructural changes or expense and that has been tried and proven in other jurisdictions.

The solution that I offered in my previous post and which I repeat here is Caselines which was developed in England. It is a document management and collation system that is Cloud based. A “file” is created by the appropriate Court and the parties, the lawyers, the Court staff and the Judge have access to the file dependent upon permissions.

The file is developed as the parties electronically transmit their pleadings and associated “documents.”  Evidence from a number of sources including multimedia can be filed with the bundle. Because everything is held on the one system, all the parties have access to the evidence at any time. Judges can review and make private annotations before and during the hearing.

Finally, Caselines is designed to assist counsel present their evidence and documents in such a way that as each document is reference it appears on the screens of all participants in Court. It can also allow consel to present or refer to documents from a remote location

Caselines involves the deployment of digital cloud-based systems as a means of replacing the clumsy morass of paper or PDF files on USB sticks that accompany Court proceedings. Caselines enhances the gathering and production of evidence during the course of a hearing.

It is not an aspect that challenges the “presence-based” model of the Court although it could be deployed during the course of an on-line hearing. It is also an element whose deployment, although prompted by Covid 19 would have continued use and relevance in the post Covid 19 environment.

A third aspect of virtual or online hearings is that of relevance to users. I have written on this aspect in an earlier post, but what I said then bears repeating.

Although the panoply of justice and the “majesty of the law” aspects of public performance may serve some ceremonial or symbolic purpose they are not necessary to the proper and efficient delivery of justice services. Indeed the use of those last two words recognizes that in fact Courts deliver a service to the community and for the purposes of maintain the Rule of Law must continue to do so.

Societal lockdowns, social distancing, limitations on movement, proper hygiene and the need for continued cleanliness means that the “Court as a Place” model may no longer fit social and societal expectations as a result of the onset of COVID 19 and its aftermath which will be with us for some considerable time..

The Rule of Law in our society is essential. We need to reimagine some of our processes to cope with the “new normal” forced upon us by COVID 19. We need to be innovative and proactive in terms of solutions. We need to look at issues in terms of “how can this work” rather than finding reasons for “why it cannot” or remaining wedded to archaic business models because they are what have been used is the past and fulfil some imagined level of near perfection.

We need to ensure:

a. Public confidence in the system; and

b. Associated with that a recognition that Courts are responding effectively to the crisis; and

c. That the solutions offered are relevant to present and future circumstances.

I shall expand on the last item.

Whether we like or not, new technologies have been having an impact upon our behaviour and upon our attitudes to and expectations of information.  All senior members of the profession and the Judiciary grew up in the pre-digital age. We are digital immigrants. 

Those who were born after 1985 are generally referred to as digital natives.  They have known no other communication system than that of the internet and are intimately familiar with and, indeed, dependent upon devices for the receipt of information and communication. Thus, their expectations of the way in which information systems are deployed is quite different from those of who are digital immigrants.

It may be considered laughable or at best quaint that the court should be a place where the requirement to be physically present for the disposal of court business, particularly when there are other communications systems that are available. One must express some concern that if the court process is not seen as relevant to modern technologies and modern means of communication, where then will lie respect for the Rule of Law?

The assumptions that underly the elements of public demonstration and public participation are all based upon a view that these are the only ways of achieving objectives.  In the minds of the coming generations, such attitudes could be seen at least as quaint and, at worst, as no longer relevant.

Therefore, whilst I applaud and support the necessity for the care that must be employed in evaluating the applicability of new technologies to the court and to the justice system, I question whether the importance of the personal participation element is over-rated and of diminishing relevance. The onset of COVID 19 places the issue of relevance of personal presence and the ability to be “present” virtually into sharp focus.

Put simply the requirement for personal presence gives way in the face of the health risks to those who have business before the Court. This has been recognised by the fact that the Courts were closed to members of the public whose presence is not required for the business of the Court.

Covid 19 – whatever the Alert level – presents us with a challenge to continue to deliver Court services – for it must be plain by now that the new reality must recognise that Courts provide a service. In my opinion the use of digital and communications technologies allow us in part to meet that challenge.

The tools and means are available. They can be added to and become part of the processes that are important in the justice system.

Covid 19 Legal Information Online

One of the first areas of research in which I engaged when I came to the study of IT and the Law was that of ascertaining the availability of legal information on line. At that time the World Wide Web was in its infancy and there were something in the vicinity of 50 or 60 legal information websites available. One was the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University which made case law and statute law available online.

It seemed to me that internet based legal information could fulfil a number of societal goals. The first was that it made legal information available to the citizenry who were governed by it. One of the fundamental precepts in a society that suggests that ignorance of the law is no excuse is that on the other side of that maxim the law has to be made available. By the provision of legal information – statutes and case law – the citizen can inform him or herself of the rules that govern behaviour and relationships.

The second  principle was that statute law and case law should not only be made available but should be made available for free. There should be no charge for this information. Admittedly organisations such as LexisNexis and Westlaw who add value to the primary information are entitled to charge a fee, but I argued then that it was the obligation of government to make legal information available for free online. The costs involved in setting up such systems essentially were for one copy. The distribution would be exponential and would involve no additional cost.

Thirdly the internet allowed the first real opportunity to go beyond the theory of promulgation (knowing of the law) to the realisation of a citizen’s free access to the law (knowing the content of the law).

In New Zealand the State has fulfilled its obligation that the new technology allows by:

1.            Making the raw data of the law available – the decisions of the Courts and up-to-date legislative material in the form of:

a.            Statutory instruments

b.            Regulations

c.             Rules made by officials under delegated rule making powers

This has been accomplished by means of the Legislation On-Line site (www.legislation.govt.nz) The Legislation Act 2012 provides for Parliamentary Counsel to make legislation available on-line and for free. In addition the Act states the the on-line version has the status of an official copy which will be recognised without question in Court. Case law is also available through Judicial Decisions Online – a facility that is not without its difficulties and is rather complex to use and achieve meaningful results – and the New Zealand Legal Information Institute operating out of Otago University Law School.

Access to Online Legal Information has had something of a history. In 1995 the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLlI), based at two Australian law schools (UTS and UNSW) was the first to follow Cornell’s lead, and to borrow the ‘LlI’ name.

By 1999 AustLlI had developed databases from all nine Australian jurisdictions covering key case law, legislation, treaties and some other content. AustLlI was the first LII to build a comprehensive national free access legal information system and it has continued to expand, exceeding 500 databases in 2012. From 2000 LexUM at the University of Montreal built the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLlI) in cooperation with the Canadian legal profession. It is a mark of its continued growth that in 2012 it added its one millionth full text decision.

These LII’s have been joined by a number of other services which provide free access to legal information. The scope and extent of such access varies. One such site is the New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLii). Another is the British and Irish Legal Information Institute. There are other similar Legal Information Institutes largely in common law countries.

So far I have been considering the provision of legal information on the macro scale. I was drawn to make some enquiries on the micro scale and the question that I posed is what is the legal underpinning for the benevolent dictatorship under which we live in New Zealand at Alert Level 4 of the Covid 19 Crisis. There have been significant interferences with civil liberties and abrogations of rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. I wanted to know the framework by which this extraordinary situation was achieved. I also had a specific question but more of that anon.

I was aware that the Health Act contained some answers as did the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006 and the Civil Defence and Emergency Act 2002. I also knew that these pieces of legislation provided the framework for the various directives and notices that the Government has issued during the crisis. Was this information all available in one place? The Legislation Online site was the answer for the statutory instruments but what about what amounted to secondary or delegated legislation.

The answer lies in the Covid 10 Website put together by the New Zealand Government. I must say that this is an excellent utility that provides all sorts of information about Covid 19, the Alerts system and information for businesses and individuals.

For my purposes the information I was seeking lay under the heading Resources on the Homepage. Among the types of information provided under the Resources heading are Information sheets, Posters, Advice about digital and social media, a Government helpline and a heading “Key Documents and Legislation”. This turned out to be exactly what I wanted. On this page are links to the relevant legislation, what are described as key documents, legal notices and documents from the Epidemic Response Committee. Under the heading Key Documents is the National Action Plan – a comprehensive and well presented document that sets out key events and significant actions that have been taken.

Statutory instruments are also available. The links take the user to the Legislation Online Site and to the statute itself. Regrettably there is no reference to the relevant section or sections although under the Health Act notices further down the page there is a reference to the statutory authority invoked.

The website is a goldmine of relevant legislation and supporting documentation providing the legal underpinning for government action during the Covid 19 crisis. It may have benefitted from the provisions of flow charts demonstrating the relationship between sections of the statute and the various notices that are issued so that one has a visual representation. Otherwise the site is clearly laid out and easy to follow. It is an excellent example of a legal information website dealing with a particular issue. Those who put it together would have done so under a significant amount of pressure. They have done well.

And did I find the information that I wanted? When the country went to Alert Level 2 on 21 March 2020 there was what appeared to be a directive that those over 70 or with pre-existing immune system compromising conditions should stay at home. The inference was clear. Rely on families and friends to do any shopping or shop online – that is another story for another time. Once the country went to Level 4 that apparent directive seems to have fallen by the wayside, presumably because at Level 4 everyone has to stay at home unless shopping for food or obtaining medical assistance.

What I wanted to know was whether or not there was a legal prohibition on over-70’s leaving home. The answer is that there is not. It is a government recommendation but does not have the force of law. That was the answer to my question which was clearly and readily available on this excellent legal information website.

Justice in the Rear-View Mirror

When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.[1]

Covid-19 has forced the Courts to adopt new ways of working in the lock-down environment.

Before the advent of Covid-19 the Court system in New Zealand operated as it has for decades – a paper-based system based on the courthouse as a physical meeting place, bringing together large numbers of people in a central location. It may be described as the “in person” or “physical presence” model with the “Courthouse as a Place”. The Courthouse has been symbolic of justice delivery, often an imposing temple-like structure with solid emblems representing the majesty of the law and the delivery of just outcomes and firm retribution for the wicked.

The threat posed by Covid-19 to public safety and to the community at large along with a lock-down preventing movement and gatherings has challenged that model. It has required change and that change has had to be implemented quickly so that essential justice services might still be delivered.

In some respects the “Courthouse as a Place” model still prevails. Courtrooms throughout the country have the ability to hear cases remotely using Virtual Meeting Room technology – a significant movement forward from the earlier use of Audio-Visual links (AVL) that have been in place for some years. 220 virtual meeting rooms have been set up across 267 court locations and these are being increased. More collaboration tools are anticipated and the number of virtual private network connections to the Court system have increased from 500 to over 2000.

In addition a form of electronic filing of court papers has been implemented although this is by no means a full-featured e-filing regime.

For a number of reasons it is not possible to conduct a full scale judge alone criminal trial remotely without the consent of the defendant, although under the present law it is possible to conduct a civil hearing using remote technology.

Nevertheless, the speed with which the Ministry and the Judiciary have moved to put these systems in place is admirable. It shows what can be done to implement new communications technologies within the justice system. Although what has been provided is by no means perfect, nor is it as wide ranging as those of us who favour greater use of technology in the justice system would like, it is a start – a proof of concept forced on us by necessity. It is something upon which the Court system could and should build to make justice more available and accessible in the future.

Before Covid-19 forced changes upon the system, there was no disaster plan for the circumstances that have been presented. The Spanish influenza epidemic of the early 20th century could provide no answers to the problems facing the Courts. There was, in fact, no Plan B. But Plan B – or at least the beginnings of it – are now in place.

The problem is that these innovations, developed as they have been to meet the challenges of delivering justice in a lockdown, are seen as temporary. At the end of the Covid-19 emergency  we in New Zealand will return to “physical presence” model conducted in courthouses throughout the country. It is argued that courthouses serve an important role as the local face of justice for communities.

The suggestion is that the use of technology is not how justice should be delivered in New Zealand. At the moment the problem is that the use of technology has been forced upon us, like it or not, and the solutions arising should not be discarded as no longer fit for purpose or a temporary emergency expedient.

In the overall scheme of things the issue of remote access and videoconferencing is a small part of a much bigger picture that involves the digitization of the Court record. There are already solutions available for this such as that offered by Caselines and about which I was talking back in 2013!

But remote access and digital presence have been dismissed based on the perception that a digital Court system does not – cannot – replicate the level of public and community engagement in the processes of justice and it can’t really replicate the public understanding that flows from a Court house based system for justice. The current use of digital technology has been forced upon the Courts – a stopgap measure; a temporary expedient.

The view is that the “in person” model involving a face to face exchange involving the Judge, counsel and the defendant is important, along with the presence of the Court as a place where the community comes together to provide support for victims and for defendants. It is argued that it is by way of those opportunities for early interventions which can prevent re-offending and subsequent re-engagement with the criminal justice system. I gather that this approach is based on research done by a Professor Ian Lambie and to which Chief Justice referred in her paper to the Criminal Bar Association Conference in 2019.

The concern is that there seems to be an overuse of AVL which is considered lacking in the richness of the information that can be passed between people in a face to face situation. There is unhappiness with the increased use of AVL that the Covid 19 crisis has made necessary but it is recognized it a necessity.

In many respects I consider that the these views about AVL and remote hearings, informed in part by the view of Professor Lambie, are as much cultural as anything else. The majority of the judiciary, myself included, have grown up with the “in presence” model. It is what we are used to. The reality is that more and more people are becoming used to getting their information remotely and are able to make the necessary adjustments in their cognitive and reactive thinking. The human race is known for its ability to adapt and lawyers and judges must be part of this adaptation.

So where does this leave us? There are a number of realities that we have to face. The first is that whether we like it or not we are in the middle of a revolutionary process – and not a political revolution but a revolution that will affect our entire society. We simply will not return to the world as it was in December 2019. All will change – change utterly.

We have to recognize that the post-Covid-19 world will be a different one from that to which we are used. And the realities of the revolution will not become apparent for some considerable time. My own view is that there will be social disruption and dislocation that will continue until at least the end of 2021. Around about then we may see some form of stability – I do not use the word “normalcy” because that suggests a return. There will be no return.

As a result of the circumstances that have been forced upon us we have had to adapt to new methods of communication and information exchange. A whole older generation a few weeks ago thought an email was the cutting edge of technology. Within a very short period of time they have discovered that video calling their friends and family is not some black art for which they need a computer technician.

If there are lawyers and Judges who have made that discovery, they will then likely make the mental jump and ask why on earth the same thing cannot be usefully done in a court. Digital systems and remote hearings may not be the way for all cases but they can be used for many and may provide a more effective, relevant, accessible, versatile justice system than we had before.

Although I know that some of the arguments in favour of the “in person” “Courthouse as a Place” model are based upon elements of the Rule of Law and the importance of full engagement and the symbolic trappings surrounding the administration of Justice, the changes that have been forced upon us demonstrate the fragility and brittleness of those arguments and indeed of the system itself.

But to say that it will be “business as usual” once things settle down, to suggest a full return to the clumsy, archaic, rear view system that has been so much a part of the past ignores the fact that there are effective technological system for the delivery of justice services.

Covid 19 and the lockdown forced the Courts to scramble for solutions to important services that they provide. Why? Because there was no Plan B. The Covid 19 crisis demonstrated that it was unacceptable to argue that “this is the only way because it is the way that we have done it.”

What the Covid 19 crisis has done is forced us to recognize that we must have alternatives. There will be other crises in the future that will require us to move fast and break things. We should always have a Plan B and one that can be deployed seamlessly and easily to whatever threats arise. Remote hearings and greater use of technology form part of that Plan B, have been deployed and can be improved and developed further.

The ball of opportunity has been placed before us. It may be, if we pick it up, there may be a few stumbles and a few drops. Better that than never to have picked up the ball at all.


[1] McLuhan, M. and Q. Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Co-ordinated by J. Agel. (1967). New York, London, Toronto: Bantam Books. pp 74 – 75.

Courts and Covid 19: Delivering the Rule of Law in a Time of Crisis

“Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say why not?[1]

Introduction

In this post I consider the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic upon the operation of the Courts and the delivery of Justice services in New Zealand. I argue that Covid 19 has demonstrated the fragility and fallibility of the physical presence “Court as a Place” model of justice services delivery.

I suggest that technology can be deployed to meet the challenges of Covid 19 and presents us with an opportunity to remodel the delivery of Court services so that elements of the Rule of Law and protected along with the physical safety and health of all participants.

Recent legislative changes following the invocation of the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006 give Judges the power to be innovative in the way in which proceedings may be conducted in this time of crisis. The steps taken now may be an open door to things that previously never were.

The Physical Presence Model

Covid 19 has challenged many of the aspects of and assumptions that we have about the delivery of justice through the Court system. Some of these aspects and assumptions were outlined by the Chief Justice in a paper to the Australasian Supreme and Federal Court Judges’ Conference in Canberra on 20 January 2020.  It was entitled “A Framework for the future; Technology and the Rule of Law”.

She identified elements such as the importance of the Courthouse to the Rule of Law, the court hearing as a public demonstration of the Rule of Law in action and public hearings which exemplify fairness and legality. These three elements are all part of what could be described as the “Court as a Place” or “physical presence” model of the delivery of justice.

COVID 19 challenges this “physical presence” model. The way in which the virus spreads, its apparent virulence, the requirements for reduced opportunities for gatherings and the need for what is referred to as “social isolation,” the restriction on movement of participants based on age means that the physical presence aspect of human interaction in a courtroom in a courthouse render the “Court as a place” model of delivery of justice services becomes untenable. Indeed on 26 March 2020 the unprecedented step was taken to close the District Court and High Court to members of the public whose presence is not required for the conduct of the day’s business in the interests of public safety.

Covid 19 demonstrates the fragility and instability of the Court system as a means of justice delivery, using a “presence” based model. What was thought to be as solid as some of the architectural and symbolic representations of the Court has proven to be at risk because of the nature of a virulent disease and an apparent reluctance in the past to confront the winds of change and take up the opportunities that new technologies present.

Remote participation to the limited extent that audio-visual links allows and the use of electronic books – a digital mirror of the old Eastlight file – are a start but sadly are constrained by an infrastructure that is not fit for purpose.

Public Confidence, Responsiveness and Relevance.

Although the panoply of justice and the “majesty of the law” aspects of public performance may serve some ceremonial or symbolic purpose they are not necessary to the proper and efficient delivery of justice services. Indeed the use of those last two words recognizes that in fact Courts deliver a service to the community and for the purposes of maintain the Rule of Law must continue to do so.

Societal lockdowns, social distancing, limitations on movement, proper hygiene and the need for continued cleanliness means that we must look for other solutions for the delivery of Court services. In re-evaluating what it is that Courts do, the “Court as a Place” model may no longer fit social and societal expectations as a result of the onset of COVID 19.

The Rule of Law in our society is essential. We need to reimagine some of our processes to cope with the “new normal” forced upon us by COVID 19. We need to be innovative and proactive in terms of solutions. We need to look at issues in terms of “how can this work” rather than finding reasons for “why it cannot.”

We need to ensure:

  • Public confidence in the system; and
  • Associated with that a recognition that Courts are responding effectively to the crisis; and
  • That the solutions offered are relevant to present and future circumstances.

Allow me to expand on the last item.

Whether we like or not, new technologies have been having an impact upon our behaviour and upon our attitudes to and expectations of information.  All senior members of the profession and the Judiciary grew up in the pre-digital age. We are digital immigrants.  Those who were born after 1985 are generally referred to as digital natives.  They have known no other communication system than that of the internet and are intimately familiar with and, indeed, dependent upon devices for the receipt of information and communication. Thus, their expectations of the way in which information systems are deployed is quite different from those of who are digital immigrants. 

Their attitude towards the symbolism of the court is that the court is a place where the requirement to be physically present at a certain place for the disposal of court business may be seen as laughable, particularly when there are other systems that are available. One must express some concern that if the court process is not seen as relevant to modern technologies and modern means of communication, where then will lie the respect for the Rule of Law?

The assumptions that underly the elements of public demonstration and public participation are all based upon a view that these are the only ways of achieving objectives.  In the minds of the coming generations, such attitudes could be seen at least as quaint and, at worst, as no longer relevant. 

Therefore, whilst I applaud and support the necessity for the care that must be employed in evaluating the applicability of new technologies to the court and to the justice system, I question whether the importance of the personal participation element is over-rated and of diminishing relevance. The onset of COVID 19 places the issue of relevance of personal presence and the ability to be “present” virtually into sharp focus.

Put simply the requirement for personal presence gives way in the face of the health risks to those who have business before the Court. This has been recognised by the fact that the Courts are closed to members of the public whose presence is not required for the business of the Court. Covid 19 present us with a challenge to continue to deliver Court services – for it must be plain by now that the new reality must recognise that Courts provide a service. In my opinion the use of digital and communications technologies allow us to meet the challenge.

We need to recognise that we must reduce as far as possible physical human interaction in Court processes. Electronic filing using the Internet and Cloud based systems mean that physical documents need not pass over a Registry desk and there is an absence of any need to handle paper or other physical objects that can transmit disease.

E-Filing and E-Bundles as a Solution

All courts must have a record. These comprise the pleadings and associated documents and applications relevant to a case. In the past these records of court files were filed manually in hard copy across the counter. This still occurs although in many cases electronic copies may be sent to the court in PDF format as email attachments. In the Disputes Tribunal in New Zealand there is provision for creating an application using on-line forms. The e-document so created is then printed out and sent to the appropriate Court office, simply because there is not a system that allows for an electronic file (e-file).

There is a solution that allows for the creation of an e-file that is readily accessible by the parties and the Court, that can be integrated into a courts management system, that is not “rule specific” in that it can be used within the context or court rules that allow electronic filing, that does not require major infrastructural changes or expense and that has been tried and proven in other jurisdictions.

The solution that I offer is Caselines which was developed in England. It is a document management and collation system that is Cloud based. A “file” is created by the appropriate Court and the parties, the lawyers, the Court staff and the Judge have access to the file dependent upon permissions.

The file is developed as the parties electronically transmit their pleadings and associated “documents.”  Evidence from a number of sources including multimedia can be filed with the bundle. Because everything is held on the one system, all the parties have access to the evidence at any time. Judges can review and make private annotations before and during the hearing.

Finally, Caselines is designed to assist counsel present their evidence and documents in such a way that as each document is reference it appears on the screens of all participants in Court. It can also allow consel to present or refer to documents from a remote location

In many respects this is a neutral element of the system. It involves the deployment of digital cloud-based systems as a means of replacing the clumsy morass of paper that accompanies Court proceedings and enhances the gathering and production of evidence during the course of a hearing. It is not an aspect that challenges the “presence-based” model of the Court although it could be deployed during the course of an on-line or asynchronous hearing. It is also an element whose deployment, although prompted by Covid 19 would have continued use and relevance in the post Covid 19 environment.

Technology and the Asynchronous Hearing

My next suggestion challenges the synchronous model of the Court hearing.

In our present system the court as a place is central.  It is necessary for all of the parties, their witnesses, their lawyers and the Judge to be available at the same place and at the same time.  Thus, the hearing takes place synchronously and must take place within time allocated or any additional time that may be available. 

Bringing everybody together at the same place and at the same time is one of the difficulties of bringing a case to some form of finality by way of a hearing. Even a hearing where all the parties are remotely present via videolink suffers from this deficiency.

Professor Richard Susskind proposes[2]  in his discussions about Online Courts that there be asynchronous hearings, which means that utilising technology one party may give evidence at a time that is convenient to him or her and for the Judge.  The other party may be present in the virtual sense to hear that evidence.  At a later time, that other party would have a right of reply.  It would mean that the hearing would proceed in fits and starts, a process that is not unknown to current judicial decision-makers and lawyers.  It does involve something of a major cultural shift within a system that has become used to having a court case start at the beginning and carry on through until the end – a synchronous process. 

The advantage of the a-synchronous hearing is that it does not necessarily involve everybody being in the same place at the same time. They can be “virtually” present. It is in this respect that Professor Susskind develops his concept of the court as a service rather the court as a place, because technology can allow the asynchronous hearing to take place, even although the parties are not physically in the presence of one another.

The synchronous hearing has been supported in the past because that is the way court cases have been conducted in the past. The focus of the parties and the tribunal is upon the one matter. The model is akin to that in Alice in Wonderland “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop”.[3]

The reality is that the focus is never as tight as that. The parties go home at the end of the day and attend to their affairs. The lawyers deal with other matters in their caseloads. The judge works on a reserved decision in another case. In this respect a certain level of ascynchronicity is already present in a Court case even although the matter may proceed over the course of consecutive days or weeks.

The asynchronous hearing challenges the “presence-based” model in that the hearing may take place over a period of time at the convenience of the parties and their lawyers, dealing with certain issues or evidence on a step by step basis. The use of technology – notably audio-visual links or AVL – means that place does not matter.

It may well be that this model of hearing may be more appropriate for a civil case rather than a criminal one. Yet it is my view that criminal cases could and should be considered for full remote presence hearings with perhaps a facility for private communications between client and counsel.

Objections to this method of proceeding are probably a mixture of cultural practice and habitual training. It is never easy to change a “traditional” way of doing things, but disruption always accompanies technological change. In the same way that many commercial and governmental operations have changed process to adapt to new technologies and the saving and convenience that accompany them, so too the legal profession and the Court system must adapt to remain relevant and credible. There is nothing new about the law’s delays. Hamlet complained of them in 1599.

What is remarkable is that over half a millennium later we have a chance to tackle such problems, yet seem to find reasons for not doing so. The onset of Covid 19 means that remote asynchronous hearings may prove an alternative to the unhealthy, physical presence synchronous model that we presently have.

It is acknowledged that the asynchronous hearing challenges the public administration of justice, the importance of the courthouse as a symbol and the court hearing as a public demonstration of the rule of law – what may be described as the performative aspect. Nevertheless it is incumbent upon the Courts to respond to new challenges, including those involving the health of participants. There is still participation. There is still an opportunity to be heard and for a decision maker to actively participate. It does not require all persons to be present in the same room for a Judge to be seen to pay equal attention to the arguments of each side.

In many respects these presence-based arguments are of a cultural nature that have developed over a period of centuries.  They have developed within the context of the availability, or lack of availability, of different systems of communication.  The oral hearing arose because that was the only way in which a dispute could be litigated as the court system was developing many centuries ago. Times have changed – changed utterly and the Courts must change with them.

The Hearing Technology

The provision of AVL for Court hearings is premised upon a “presence” model and the “court as a place” still prevails. There are shortcomings with the technology in terms of quality, ability to effectively communicate and technological protocols that could be improved.

For all participants to be “present” remotely some other solution that does not envisage or require a central location must be deployed. The necessary documents and other materials would be available via the Cloud-based document system described above. One solution that provides a workable model is Microsoft Teams. Teams at its most basic operates as a messaging app but can act as a remote working and conferencing application that allows all participants to be “present” in the one conference area. The only difference between that and a court is that the participants would be remotely located.

Another solution may be found in the videoconferencing application Zoom which can be used for webinars, conferences and meetings. When one reduces it to its most fundamental element, a court hearing is no more and no less than a meeting, albeit of a rather formal and ritualised nature.

Teams, or indeed any “off the shelf” solution such as Zoom would not have infrastructure requirements other than the Internet. It could be run independently of the Courts network. Teams and Zoom allow for the creation and retention of a record of the hearing including audio, video and screen sharing. It would allow for hearings to take place without putting the participants at risk.

Although the infrastructure of the New Zealand Ministry of Justice was deployed, on 26 March 2020 the guilty plea of Brenton Tarrant, the 15 March 2019 Christchurch terrorist, was taken by video link. Despite the lockdown the Judge and Crown counsel were present in Christchurch. Defence counsel were present by video link in another courtroom. The prisoner was “present” via video link from prison. The video may be found here https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12320188

Using different systems such as Zoom or Teams there was no need for any of the participants to have been at any Courtroom.

The opportunity now presents itself for Judges to take a lead in the current crisis and continue to deliver justice services remotely. The invocation of the provisions of the Economic Preparedness Act 2006 and a very swiftly enacted amendment mean that any administrative difficulties posed by the current Rules of Court may be modified suspended or waived. The power given to Judges do not include the power to vary the requirements of a statute, but the provisions of the Courts (Remote Participation) Act 2010 already allow for remote hearings in many cases.

What we do now could provide a proven working model for the future delivery of Justice services post Covid 19

Conclusion

It is one of the functions of the Rule of Law to provide an effective and accessible means of resolving disputes. Inevitably this involves an exchange of information and in the past, that has been what takes place in a court – an information exchange about a dispute that leads to a resolution by a decision-maker.

Communications technologies and digital communications technologies have evolved to the point that a wide variety of means of communication of information are now available. It seems counter-intuitive for the Justice system to rely on one model when there are a variety of opportunities available.

My proposals do not dispense with the fundamentals that underly the Rule of Law. I realise that in many respects these proposals have significant elements present in Professor Susskind’s Online Court but with wider application than small civil claims.

I would suggest that they enhance the Rule of Law and allow the justice system to appear relevant rather than a quaint way of resolving disputes that the protagonists of Bleak House would recognise and would provide workable solutions for the continued delivery of Courts services in the Covid 19 environment.


[1] Attributed to Robert F Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw Back to Methuselah where the Serpent said “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”.

[2] Richard Susskind Online Courts and the Future of Justice (Oxford, Oxford 2019)

[3] Lewis Carroll “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland” Chapter 9

Dangerous Speech – some legislative proposals

Preface

This piece was written in April 2019. I sat on it for a while and then published it on the Social Science Research Network. It has attracted some interest since it was posted and was recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for LSN: Criminal Offenses & Defenses. As at 21 January a copy had been downloaded 21 times and there have been 180 abstract views.

Of more interest is the fact that a colleague in the United States has used the paper as a teaching aid for his First Amendment teaching course on the case of Terminiello v City of Chicago 337 U.S. 1 (1949). Terminiello held that a “breach of peace” ordinance of the City of Chicago that banned speech which “stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance” was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

My piece, which I have decided to publish on this blog, deals primarily with the position under NZ Law. I had not come across Terminiello but it is interesting to see that it comes largely to a similar conclusion. It is a real thrill that has been found to be useful for teaching purposes.

Abstract

This paper considers steps that can be taken to legislate against hate speech.

 The first issue is the term “hate speech” itself and, in light of the proposals advanced, this emotive and largely meaningless term should be replaced with that of “dangerous speech” which more adequately encapsulates the nature of the harm that the law should address.

The existing criminal provisions relating to what I call communications offences are outlined. Proposals are advanced for an addition to the Crimes Act to fill what appears to be a gap in the communications offences and which should be available to both individuals and groups. A brief discussion then follows about section 61 of the Human Rights Act and section 22 of the Harmful Digital Communications Act. It is suggested that major changes to these pieces of legislation is unnecessary.

Communications offences inevitably involve a tension with the freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the discussion demonstrates that the proposal advanced are a justifiable limitation on freedom of expression, but also emphasises that a diverse society must inevitably contain a diversity of opinion which should be freely expressed.  

 Introduction

The Context

In the early afternoon of 15 March 2019 a gunman armed with semi-automatic military style weapons attacked two mosques in Christchurch where people had gathered to pray. There were 50 deaths. The alleged gunman was apprehended within about 30 minutes of the attacks. It was found that he had live streamed his actions via Facebook. The stream was viewed by a large number of Facebook members and was shared across Internet platforms.

It also transpired that the alleged gunman had sent a copy of his manifesto entitled “The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society” to a number of recipients using Internet based platforms. Copies of both the live stream and the manifesto have been deemed objectionable by the Chief Censor.[1]

In addition it appears that the alleged gunman participated in discussions on Internet platforms such as 4Chan and 8Chan which are known for some of their discussion threads advocating White Supremacy and Islamophobic tropes

The Reaction

There can be no doubt that what was perpetrated in Christchurch amounted to a hate crime. What has followed has been an outpouring of concern primarily at the fact that the stream of the killings was distributed via Facebook and more widely via the Internet.

The response by Facebook has been less than satisfactory although it would appear that in developing their Livestream facility they then were unable to monitor and control the traffic across it – a digital social media equivalent of Frankenstein’s creature.

However, the killings have focused attention on the wider issue of hate speech and the adequacy of the law to deal with this problem.

Whither “Hate” Speech

The problem with the term “hate speech” is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to define.

Any speech that advocates, incites and intends physical harm to another person must attract legal sanction. It is part of the duty of government to protect its citizens from physical harm.

In such a situation, it matters not that the person against whom the speech is directed is a member of a group or not. All citizens, regardless of any specific identifying characteristics are entitled to be protected from physical harm or from those who would advocate or incite it.

Certain speech may cause harm that is not physical. Such harm may be reputational, economic or psychological. The law provides a civil remedy for such harms.

At the other end of the spectrum – ignoring speech that is anodyne – is the speech that prompts the response “I am offended” – what has been described as the veto statement.[2] From an individual perspective this amounts to a perfectly valid statement of opinion. It may not address the particular argument or engage in any meaningful debate. If anything it is a statement of disengagement akin to “I don’t like what I am hearing.”

Veto Statements

The difficulty arises when such a veto statement claims offence to a group identity. Such groups could include the offended woman, the offended homosexual, the offended person of colour or some other categorization based on the characteristics of a particular group. The difficulty with such veto statements – characterizing a comment as “racist” is another form of veto of the argument – is that they legitimize the purely subjective act of taking offence, generally with negative consequences for others.

Should speech be limited, purely because it causes offence? There are many arguments against this proposition. That which protects people’s rights to say things I find objectionable or offensive is precisely what protects my right to object.  Do we want to live in a society that is so lacking in robustness that we are habitually ready to take offence? Do we want our children to be educated or socialized in this way? Do we desire our children to be treated as adults, or our adults to be treated as children? Should our role model be the thin-skinned individual who cries “I am offended” or those such as Mandela, Baldwin or Gandhi who share the theme that although something may be grossly offensive, it is beneath my dignity to take offence? Those who abuse me demean themselves.

It may well be that yet another veto statement is applied to the mix. What right does a white, privileged, middle-class old male – a member of a secure group – have to say this. It is my opinion that the marginalization of the “I’m offended” veto statement is at least to open the door to proper debate and disagreement.

Furthermore, the subjective taking of offence based on group identity ignores the fact that we live in a diverse and cosmopolitan society. The “I’m offended” veto statement discourages diversity and, in particular, diversity of opinion. One of the strengths of our society is its diversity and multi-cultural nature. Within this societal structure are a large number of different opinions. For members of one group to shut down the opinions of another on the basis of mere offence is counter to the diverse society that we celebrate.

The term “hate speech” is itself a veto statement and often an opposing view is labelled as “hate speech”. The problem with this approach seems to be that the listener hates what has been said and therefore considers the proposition must be “hate speech”. This is arrant nonsense. The fact that we may find a proposition hateful to our moral or philosophical sense merely allows us to choose not to listen further. But it does not mean that because I find a point of view hateful that it should be shut down. As Justice Holmes said in US v Schwimmer[3] “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Our commitment to freedom of expression lies not in allowing others the freedom to say things with which we agree, but in allowing them the right to say things with which we absolutely disagree.

Finally, in considering the nature of the veto statement “I’m offended” or categorizing a comment as “hate speech” where lies the harm. Is anybody hurt? The harm in fact comes in trying to shut down the debate with the use of the veto statement.

Aspects of “Harm”

However, recent thinking has had a tendency to extend the concept of harm suffered by individuals. It is accepted that the law should target physical harm, but should it protect an individual from any sort of harm. Catherine MacKinnon has formulated a view, based on the work of J.L. Austin, that many words or sentiments are essentially indistinguishable from deeds and therefore, sexist or misogynistic language should be regarded as a form of violence.[4] This form of assaultive speech can be extended to be available to any group based of distinguishing characteristics or identity.

The emphasis is upon the subjectivity of the person offended. What offence there may be is in the sphere of feelings. It may follow from this that if I do not feel I have been offended then I have not been offended. If we reverse the proposition only the individual may judge whether or not they have been offended. I would suggest that this element of subjectivity is not the interest of the law.

The problem is that such an extension of potentially harmful speech becomes equated with “hate speech” and virtually encompasses any form of critical dialogue. To conflate offence with actual harm means that any sort of dialogue may be impossible.

To commit an offence of violence is to perform an action with objective, observable detrimental physical consequences, the seriousness of which requires the intervention of the law. To give offence is to perform an action – the making of a statement – the seriousness of which is in part dependant upon another person’s interpretation of it.

An example may be given by looking at Holocaust denial. Those who deny the Holocaust may insult the Jewish people. That may compound the injury that was caused by the event itself. But the insult is not identical to the injury. To suggest otherwise is to invite censorship. The denial of the Holocaust is patently absurd. But it needs to be debated as it was when Deborah Lipstadt challenged the assertions of David Irving. In an action brought by Irving for defamation his claims of Holocaust denial were examined and ultimately ridiculed.[5]

Jeremy Waldron is an advocate for limits on speech. He argues that since the aim of “hate speech” is to compromise the dignity of those at whom it is targeted it should be subject to restrictions.[6] Waldron argues that public order means more than an absence of violence but includes the peaceful order of civil society and a dignitary order of ordinary people interacting with one another in ordinary ways based upon an arms-length respect.

So what does Waldron mean by dignity. He relies upon the case of Beauharnais v Illinois[7] where the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a law prohibiting any material that portrayed “depravity, criminality, unchastity or lack of virtue of a class of citizens, of any race, colour, creed or religion.” On this basis Waldron suggests that those who attack the basic social standing and reputation of a group should be deemed to have trespassed upon that group’s dignity and be subject to prosecution. “Hate speech”, he argues, should be aimed at preventing attacks on dignity and not merely offensive viewpoints. Using this approach I could say that Christianity is an evil religion but I could not say Christians are evil people.

The problem with Waldron’s “identity” approach is that is that the dignity of the collective is put before the dignity of its individual members. This raises the difficulty of what may be called “groupthink”. If I think of myself primarily as a member of a group I have defined my identity by my affiliation rather than by myself. This group affiliation suggests a certain fatalism, that possibilities are exhausted, perhaps from birth, and that one cannot be changed. This runs directly against Martin Luther King’s famous statement where he rejected identity based on race but preferred an individual assessment.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The problem with the proposition that the state should protect its citizens against what Waldron calls “group defamation” is that it runs the risk of its citizens becoming infantalised, that in fact such an approach undermines their individual dignity by assuming that they cannot answer for themselves.

Rather than encouraging people to be thin-skinned, what is required in a world of increasingly intimate diversity is to learn how to be more thick-skinned and to recognize and celebrate the difference that lies in diversity. As Ronald Dworkin put it, no one has a right not to be offended and in fact we should not take offence too readily. In a free society I may be free to feel offended but should not use that offence to interfere with the freedoms of another.

Dangerous Speech

It will be by now apparent that my view is that “hate speech” is a term that should be avoided, although I accept that it is part of the lexicon, whether we like it or not. Perhaps it might be proper to focus upon the type of speech that society should consider to be unacceptable and that warrants the interference of law.

Any interference must be based on reasonableness and demonstrable justification, given that the right of freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights Act is the subject of interference. To warrant such interference I suggest that rather than use the term “hate speech” the threshold for the interference of the law could be termed “dangerous speech” – speech that presents a danger to an individual or group of individuals.

The intentional advocacy or inciting of physical harm may be classified as “dangerous speech” and justifies the intervention of the law. It is non-specific and available both to individuals and the groups identified in the Human Rights Act. In certain circumstances – where there is incitement to or advocacy of actual physical harm, the intervention of the criminal law is justified.

The law also deals with psychological harm of a special type – serious emotional distress. That is a test in the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA). That legislation applies only to online speech. That may be a lesser form of “dangerous speech” but within the context of the provisions of section 22 HDCA such interference is justified. The elements of intention, actual serious emotional distress and the mixed subjective objective test provide safeguards that could be considered to be a proportionate interference with the freedom of expression and would harmonise the remedies presently available for online speech with that in the physical world.

There are a number of other provisions in the law that deal with forms of speech or communication harms. Some of these warrant discussion because they demonstrate the proper themes that the law should address.

Existing Communications Offences – a summary

The law has been ambivalent towards what could be called speech crimes. Earlier this year the crime of blasphemous libel was removed from the statute book. Sedition and offences similar to it were removed in 2008. Criminal libel was removed as long ago as 1993.

The Crimes Act 1961

At the same time the law has recognized that it must turn its face against those who would threaten to commit offences. Thus section 306 criminalises the actions of threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm to any person or sends or causes to be received a letter or writing threatening to kill of cause grievous bodily harm. The offence requires knowledge of the contents of the communication.

A letter or writing threatening to destroy or damage any property or injure any animal where there is knowledge of the contents of the communication and it is done without lawful justification or excuse and without claim or right is criminalized by section 307.

It will be noted that the type of communication in section 306 may be oral or written but for a threat to damage property the threat must be in writing.

Section 307A is a complicated section.[8] It was added to the Act in 2003 and was part of a number of measures enacted to deal with terrorism after the September 11 2001 tragedy. It has received attention in one case since its enactment – that of Police v Joseph.[9]

Joseph was charged with a breach of s 307A(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1961 in that he, without lawful justification or reasonable excuse and intending to cause a significant disruption to something that forms part of an infrastructure facility in New Zealand namely New Zealand Government buildings, did communicate information that he believed to be about an act namely causing explosions likely to cause major property damage.

Mr. Joseph, a secondary school student at the time, created a video clip that lasted a little over three minutes. He used his laptop and sent messages of threats to the New Zealand Government accompanied by some images that linked the language with terrorism, such as pictures of the aerial attack on the World Trade Centre and images of Osama Bin Laden. The message:[10]

  • threatened a terror attack on the New Zealand Government and New Zealand Government buildings.
  • claimed that large amounts of explosives had been placed in hidden locations on all buildings.
  • warned that New Zealand Government websites would be taken down.
  • threatened the hacking of New Zealand’s media websites.
  • threatened to disclose all Government secrets that have not been released to Wikileaks nor the public.
  • warned that obstruction would lead to harm.

The clip demanded that the New Zealand Government repeal or refrain from passing an amendment to the Copyright Act 1994. It was posted on 6 September 2010 and a deadline was set for 11 September 2010. The clip was attributed to the hacktavist group known as Anonymous.

The clip was posted to YouTube. It was not available to the public by means of a search. It was unlisted and could only be located by a person who was aware of the link to the particular clip.

The clip came to the attention of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) on 7 September 2010 who passed the information on to the Police Cybercrime Unit to commence an investigation. An initial communication from the GCSB on the morning of 7 September postulated that the clip could be a “crackpot random threat” and confirmed that its communication was “completely outside the Anonymous MO”.[11]

The site was quickly disabled and Mr. Joseph was spoken to by the Police. He made full admissions of his involvement.

The real issue at the trial was one of intent. The intention had to be a specific one. The Judge found that the intention of the defendant was to have his message seen and observed on the Internet and, although his behaviour in uploading the clip to YouTube in an Internet café and using an alias could be seen as pointing to an awareness of unlawful conduct it did not, however, point to proof of the intention to cause disruption of the level anticipated by the statute. It transpired that the defendant was aware that the clip would probably be seen by the authorities and also that he expected that it would be “taken down”.

The offence prescribed in section 308 does involve communication as well as active behavior. It criminalises the breaking or damaging or the threatening to break or damage any dwelling with a specific intention – to intimidate or to annoy. Annoyance is a relatively low level reaction to the behavior. A specific behavior – the discharging of firearms that alarms or intends to alarm a person in a dwelling house – again with the intention to intimidate or annoy – is provided for in section 308(2).

The Summary Offences Act

The Summary Offences Act contains the offence of intimidation in section 21. Intimidation may be by words or behavior. The “communication” aspect of intimidation is provided in section 21(1) which states:

Every person commits an offence who, with intent to frighten or intimidate any other person, or knowing that his or her conduct is likely to cause that other person reasonably to be frightened or intimidated,—

  • threatens to injure that other person or any member of his or her family, or to damage any of that person’s property;

Thus, there must be a specific intention – to frighten or intimidate – together with a communicative element – the threat to injure the target or a member of his or her family, or damage property.

In some respects section 21 represents a conflation of elements of section 307 and 308 of the Crimes Act together with a lesser harm threatened – that of injury – than appears in section 306 of that Act.

However, there is an additional offence which cannot be overlooked in this discussion and it is that of offensive behavior or language provided in section 4 of the Summary Offences Act.

The language of the section is as follows:

  • Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 who,—
  • in or within view of any public place, behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner; or
  • in any public place, addresses any words to any person intending to threaten, alarm, insult, or offend that person; or
  • in or within hearing of a public place,—

(i)  uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words; or

(ii) addresses any indecent or obscene words to any person.

  • Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who, in or within hearing of any public place, uses any indecent or obscene words.
  • In determining for the purposes of a prosecution under this section whether any words were indecent or obscene, the court shall have regard to all the circumstances pertaining at the material time, including whether the defendant had reasonable grounds for believing that the person to whom the words were addressed, or any person by whom they might be overheard, would not be offended.
  • It is a defence in a prosecution under subsection (2) if the defendant proves that he had reasonable grounds for believing that his words would not be overheard.

In some respects the consequences of the speech suffered by the auditor (for the essence of the offence relies upon oral communication) resemble those provided in section 61 of the Human Rights Act.

Section 4 was considered by the Supreme Court in the case of Morse v Police.[12] Valerie Morse was convicted in the District Court of behaving in an offensive manner in a public place, after setting fire to the New Zealand flag at the Anzac Day dawn service in Wellington in 2007.

In the District Court, High Court and Court of Appeal offensive behavior was held to mean behaviour capable of wounding feelings or arousing real anger, resentment, disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person of the kind actually subjected to it in the circumstances. A tendency to disrupt public order was not required to constitute behaviour that was offensive. Notwithstanding the freedom of expression guaranteed by NZBORA, the behavior was held to be offensive within the context of the ANZAC observance.

The Supreme Court held that offensive behavior must be behaviour which gives rise to a disturbance of public order. Although agreed that disturbance of public order is a necessary element of offensive behaviour under s 4(1)(a), the Judges differed as to the meaning of “offensive” behaviour. The majority considered that offensive behaviour must be capable of wounding feelings or arousing real anger, resentment, disgust or outrage, objectively assessed, provided that it is to an extent which impacts on public order and is more than those subjected to it should have to tolerate. Furthermore it will be seen that a mixed subjective\objective test is present in that the anger, resentment, disgust or outrage must be measured objectively – how would a reasonable person in this situation respond.

It is important to note that in addition to the orality or behavioural quality of the communication – Anderson J referred to it as behavioural expression[13] –  it must take place in or within view of a public place. It falls within that part of the Summary Offences Act that is concerned with public order and conduct in public places. Finally, offensive behavior is behavior that does more than merely create offence.

Observations on Communications Offences

In some respects these various offences occupy points on a spectrum. Interestingly, the offence of offensive behavior has the greatest implications for freedom of expression or expressive behavior, in that the test incorporates a subjective one in the part of the observer. But it also carries the lightest penalty, and as a summary offence can be seen to be the least serious on the spectrum. The section could be applied in the case of oral or behavioural expression against individuals or groups based on colour, race, national or ethnic origin, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation as long as the tests in Morse are met.

At the other end of the spectrum is section 307 dealing with threats to kill or cause grievous bodily harm which carries with it a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment. This section is applicable to all persons irrespective of colour, race, national or ethnic origin, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation as are sections 307, 308, section 21 of the Summary Offences Act and section 22 of the Harmful Digital Communications Act which could all occupy intermediate points on the spectrum based on the elements of the offence and the consequences that may attend upon a conviction.

There are some common themes to sections 306, 307, 308 of the Crimes Act and section 21 of the Summary Offences Act.

First, there is the element of fear that may be caused by the behavior. Even although the issue of intimidation is not specifically an element of the offences under sections 306 and 307, there is a fear that the threat may be carried out.

Secondly there is a specific consequence prescribed – grievous bodily harm or damage to or destruction of property.

Thirdly there is the element of communication or communicative behavior that has the effect of “sending a message”.

These themes assist in the formulation of a speech-based offence that is a justifiable limitation on free speech, that recognizes that there should be some objectively measurable and identifiable harm that flows from the speech, but that does not stifle robust debate in a free and democratic society.

A Possible Solution

There is a change that could be made to the law which would address what appears to be something of a gulf between the type of harm contemplated by section 306 and lesser, yet just as significant harms.

I propose that the following language could cover the advocacy or intentional incitement of actual physical injury against individuals or groups. Injury is a lesser physical harm than grievous bodily harm and fills a gap between serious emotional distress present in the HDCA and the harm contemplated by section 306.

The language of the proposal is technology neutral. It could cover the use of words or communication either orally, in writing, electronically or otherwise. Although I dislike the use of the words “for the avoidance of doubt” in legislation for they imply a deficiency of clarity of language in the first place, there could be a definition of words or communication to include the use of electronic media.

The language of the proposal is as follows:

It is an offence to use words or communication that advocates or intends to incite actual physical injury against an individual or group of individuals based upon, in the case of a group, identifiable particular characteristics of that group

This proposal would achieve a number of objectives. It would capture speech or communications that cause or threaten to cause harm of a lesser nature than grievous bodily harm stated in section 306.

The proposal is based upon ascertaining an identifiable harm caused by the speech or communicative act. This enables the nature of the speech to be crystallised in an objective manner rather than the unclear, imprecise and potentially inconsistent use of the umbrella term “hate speech.”

The proposal would cover speech, words or communication across all media. It would establish a common threshold for words or communication below which an offence would be committed.

The proposal would cover any form of communicative act which was the term used by Anderson J in Morse and which the word “expression” used in section 14 of NZBORA encompasses.

The tension between freedom of expression and the limitations that may be imposed by law is acknowledged. It would probably need to be stated, although it should not be necessary, that in applying the provisions of the section the Court would have to have regard to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Other Legislative Initiatives

The Human Rights Act

There has been consideration of expanding other legislative avenues to address the problem of “dangerous” speech. The first avenue lies in the Human Rights Act which prohibits the incitement of disharmony on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins. One of the recent criticisms of the legislation is that it does not apply to incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.[14]

Before considering whether such changes need to be made – a different consideration to whether they should be made – it is important to understand how the Human Rights Act works in practice. The Act prohibits a number of discriminatory practices in relation to various activities and services.[15] It also prohibits indirect discrimination which is an effects based form of activity.[16] Victimisation or less favourable treatment based on making certain disclosures is prohibited.[17] Discrimination in advertising along with provisions dealing with sexual or racial harassment are the subject of provisions.[18]

The existing provisions relating to racial disharmony as a form of discrimination and racial harassment are contained in section 61 and 63 of the Act.[19]

There are two tests under section 61. One is an examination of the content of the communication. Is it threatening, abusive or insulting? If that has been established the next test is to consider whether it is:

  1. Likely to excite hostility against or
  2. Bring into contempt

Any group of persons either in or coming to New Zealand on the ground of colour, race or ethnic or national origins.

These provisions could well apply to “dangerous speech”. Is it necessary, therefore, to extend the existing categories in section 61 to include religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Religion

Clearly if one were to add religion, threatening, abusive or insulting language about adherents of the Islamic faith would fall within the first limb of the section 61(1) test. But is it necessary that religion be added? And should this be simply because a religious group was targeted?

The difficulty with including threatening, abusive or insulting language against groups based upon religion means that not only would Islamaphobic “hate speech” be caught, but so too would the anti-Christian, anti-West, anti “Crusader” rhetoric of radical Islamic jihadi groups be caught. Would the recent remarks by Winston Peters condemning the implementation of strict sharia law in Brunei that would allow the stoning of homosexuals and adulterers be considered speech that insults members of a religion?[20]

A further difficulty with religious-based speech is that often there are doctrinal differences that can lead to strong differences of opinion that are strongly voiced. Often the consequences for doctrinal heresy will be identified as having certain consequences in the afterlife. Doctrinal disputes, often expressed in strong terms, have been characteristics of religious discourse for centuries. Indeed the history of the development of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press was often in the context of religious debate and dissent.

It may well be that to add a category of religion or religious groups will have unintended consequences and have the effect of stifling or chilling debate about religious belief.

An example of the difficulty that may arise with restrictions on religious speech may be demonstrated by the statement “God is dead.” This relatively innocuous statement may be insulting or abusive to members of theist groups who would find a fundamental aspect of their belief system challenged. For some groups such a statement may be an invitation to violence against the speaker. Yet the same statement could be insulting or abusive to atheists as well simply for the reason that for God to be dead presupposes the existence of God which challenges a fundamental aspect of atheist belief.

This example illustrates the danger of placing religious discourse into the unlawful categories of discrimination.

If it were to be determined that religious groups would be added to those covered by section 61, stronger wording relating to the consequences of speech should be applicable to such groups. Instead of merely “exciting hostility against” or “bring into contempt” based upon religious differences perhaps the wording should be “advocating and encouraging physical violence against..” .

This would have the effect of being a much stronger test than exists at present under section 61 and recognizes the importance of religious speech and doctrinal dispute.

Gender, Disability or Sexual Orientation

The Human Rights Act already has provisions relating to services-based discrimination on these additional grounds. The question is whether or not there is any demonstrated need to extend the categories protected under section 61 to these groups.

Under the current section 61 test, any threatening, abusive or insulting language directed towards or based upon gender, disability or sexual orientation could qualify as “hate speech” if the speech was likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt a group of persons. The difficulty lies not so much with threatening language, which is generally clear and easy to determine, but with language which may be abusive or insulting.

Given the sensitivities that many have and the ease with which many are “offended” it could well be that a softer and less robust approach may be taken to what constitutes abusive or insulting language.

For this reason the test surrounding the effect of such speech needs to be abundantly clear. If the categories protected by section 61 are to be extended there must be a clear causative nexus between the speech and the exciting of hostility or the bringing into contempt. Alternatively the test could be strengthened as suggested above to replace the test of exciting hostility or bringing into contempt with “advocating and encouraging physical violence against..”

It should be observed that section 61 covers groups that fall within the protected categories. Individuals within those groups have remedies available to them under the provisions of the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015

The first observation that must be made is that the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 (HDCA) is an example of Internet Exceptionalism in that it deals only with speech communicated via electronic means. It does not cover speech that may take place in a physical public place, by a paper pamphlet or other form of non-electronic communication.

The justification for such exceptionalism was considered by the Law Commission in the Ministerial Briefing Paper.[21] It was premised upon the fact that digital information is pervasive, its communication is not time limited and can take place at any time – thus extending the reach of the cyber-bully – and it is often shared among groups with consequent impact upon relationships. These are some of the properties of digital communications systems to which I have made reference elsewhere.[22]

A second important feature of the HDCA is that the remedies set out in the legislation are not available to groups. They are available only to individuals. Individuals are defined as “natural persons” and applications for civil remedies can only be made by an “affected individual” who alleges that he or she has suffered or will suffer harm as a result of a digital communication.[23] Under section 22 – the offence section – the victim of an offence is the individual who is the target of a posted digital communication.[24]

The HDCA provides remedies for harmful digital communications. A harmful digital communication is one which

  1. Is a digital communication communicated electronically and includes any text message, writing, photograph, picture, recording, or other matter[25]
  2. Causes harm – that is serious emotional distress

In addition there are ten communications principles[26]. Section 6(2) of the Act requires the Court to take these principles into account in performing functions or exercising powers under the Act.

For the purposes of a discussion about “dangerous speech” principles 2, 3, 8 and 10 are relevant. Principle 10 extends the categories present in section 61 of the Human Rights Act to include those discussed above.

The reason for the difference is that the consequences of a harmful digital communication are more of an individual and personal nature. Harm or serious emotional distress must be caused. This may warrant an application for an order pursuant to section 19 of the Act – what may be described as a civil enforcement order. A precondition to an application for any of the orders pursuant to section 19 is that the matter must be considered by the Approved Agency – presently Netsafe.[27] If Netsafe is unable to resolve the matter, then it is open to the affected individual to apply to the District Court.

The orders that are available are not punitive but remedial in nature. They include an order that the communication be taken down or access to it be disabled; that there be an opportunity for a reply or for an apology; that there be a form of restraining order so that the defendant is prohibited from re-posting the material or encouraging others to do so.

In addition orders may be made against online content hosts requiring them to take material down along with the disclosure of the details and particulars of a subscriber who may have posted a harmful digital communication. Internet Service Providers (described in the legislation as IPAPs) may be required to provide details of an anonymous subscriber to the Court.

It should be noted that the element of intending harm need not be present on the part of the person posting the electronic communication. In such a situation the material is measured against the communications principles along with evidence that the communication has caused serious emotional distress.

Section 22 – Causing harm by posting a digital communication

The issue of intentional causation of harm is covered by section 22 of the Act. A mixed subjective-objective test that is required for an assessment of content. The elements necessary for an offence under section 22 HDCA are as follows:

A person must post a digital communication with a specific intention – that it cause harm to a victim;

It must be proven that the posting of the communication would cause harm to an ordinary reasonable person in the position of the victim;

Finally, the communication must cause harm to the victim.

Harm is defined as serious emotional distress. In addition the Court may take a number of factors into account in determining whether a post may cause harm

  1. the extremity of the language used:
  2. the age and characteristics of the victim:
  3. whether the digital communication was anonymous:
  4. whether the digital communication was repeated:
  5. the extent of circulation of the digital communication:
  6. whether the digital communication is true or false:
  7. the context in which the digital communication appeared.

The requirement that harm be intended as well as caused has been the subject of some criticism. If there has been an intention to cause harm, is it necessary that there be proof that harm was caused? Similarly, surely it is enough that harm was caused even if it were not intended?

As to the first proposition it must be remembered that section 22 criminalises a form of expression. The Law Commission was particularly concerned that the bar should be set high, given the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 provisions in section 14 regarding freedom of expression. If expression is to be criminalized the consequences of that expression must warrant the involvement of the criminal law and must be accompanied by the requisite mens rea or intention.

As to the second proposition, the unintended causation of harm is covered by the civil enforcement provisions of the legislation. To eliminate the element of intention would make the offence one of strict liability – an outcome reserved primarily for regulatory or public interest types of offence.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act and “Dangerous Speech”

Could the HDCA in its current form be deployed to deal with “dangerous speech”. The first thing to be remembered is that the remedies in the legislation are available to individuals. Thus if there were a post directed towards members of a group, an individual member of that group could consider proceedings.

Would that person be “a victim” within the meaning of section 22? It is important to note that the indefinite article is used rather than the definite one. Conceivably if a post were made about members of a group the collective would be the target of the communication and thus every individual member of that collective could make a complaint and claim to be a target of the communication under section 22(4).

To substantiate the complaint it would be necessary to prove that the communication caused serious emotional distress[28] which may arise from a cumulation of a number of factors.[29] Whether the communication fulfilled the subjective\objective test in section 22(1)(b) would, it is suggested, be clear if the communication amounted to “hate speech”, taking into account the communications principles, along with the factors that should be taken into account in section 22(2)((a) – (g). The issue of intention to cause harm could be discerned either directly or by inference from the nature of the language used in the communication.

In addition it is suggested that the civil remedies would also be available to a member of a group to whom “dangerous speech” was directed. Even although a group may be targeted, an individual member of the group would qualify as an affected individual if serious emotional distress were suffered. A consideration of the communications principles and whether or not the communication was in breach of those principles would be a relatively straightforward matter of interpretation.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act in Action

Although the principal target of the legislation was directed towards cyber-bullying by young people, most of the prosecutions under the Act have been within the context of relationship failures or breakdowns and often have involved the transmission of intimate images or videos – a form of what the English refer to as “revenge porn”. There have been a relatively large number of prosecutions under section 22 – something that was not anticipated by the Law Commission in its Briefing Paper.[30]

Information about the civil enforcement process is difficult to obtain. Although the Act is clear that decisions, including reasons, in proceedings must be published.[31] There are no decisions available on any website to my knowledge.

From my experience there are two issues that arise regarding the civil enforcement process. The first is the way the cases come before the Court. When the legislation was enacted the then Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, considered that the Law Commission recommendation that there be a Communications Tribunal to deal with civil enforcement applications was not necessary and that the jurisdiction under the legislation would form part of the normal civil work of the District Court.

Because of pressures on the District Court, civil work does not receive the highest priority and Harmful Digital Communications applications take their place as part of the ordinary business of the Court. This means that the purpose of the Act in providing a quick and efficient means of redress for victimsis not being fulfilled. [32]  One case involving communications via Facebook in January of 2017 has been the subject of several part-heard hearings and has yet to be concluded. Even if the Harmful Digital Communications Act is not to be deployed to deal with “dangerous speech”, it is suggested that consideration be given to the establishment of a Communications Tribunal as suggested by the Law Communication so that hearings of applications can be fast-tracked.

The second issue surrounding the civil enforcement regime involves that of jurisdiction over off-shore online content hosts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. Although Facebook and Google have been cited as parties and have been served in New Zealand, they do not acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Court but nevertheless indicate a willingness to co-operate with requests made by the Court without submitting to the jurisdiction of the Court.

In my view the provisions of Subpart 3 of Part 6 of the District Court Rules would be applicable. These provisions allow service outside New Zealand as a means of establishing the jurisdiction of the New Zealand Courts. The provisions of Rule 6.23 relating to service without leave are not applicable and, as the law stands, the leave of the Court would have to be sought to serve an offshore online content host. This is a complex process that requires a number of matters to be addressed about a case before leave may be granted. Once leave has been granted there may be a protest to the jurisdiction by the online content host before the issue of jurisdiction could be established.

One possible change to the law might be an amendment to Rule 6.23 allowing service of proceedings under the HDCA without the leave of the Court. There would still be the possibility that there would be a protest to the jurisdiction but if that could be answered it would mean that the Courts would be able to properly make orders against offshore online content hosts.

Are Legislative Changes Necessary?

It will be clear by now that the law relating to “dangerous speech” in New Zealand does not require major widespread change or reform. What changes may be needed are relatively minor and maintain the important balance contained in the existing law between protecting citizens or groups from speech that is truly harmful and ensuring that the democratic right to freedom of expression is preserved.

The Importance of Freedom of Expression

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA) provides at section 14

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

This right is not absolute. It is subject to section 5 which provides “the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Section 4 reinforces the concept of Parliamentary supremacy. If a specific piece of legislation conflicts or is inconsistent with NZBORA, the specific piece of legislation prevails. Thus, specific pieces of legislation which impose restrictions or limitations upon freedom of expression – such as the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 – prevail although if an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in NZBORA, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.[33]

This then provides a test for considering limitations or restrictions on the rights under NZBORA. Limitations must be reasonable and must be demonstrably justified within the context of a free and democratic society.

Thus, when we consider legislation that may impinge upon or limit the freedom of expression the limitation must be

  1. Reasonable
  2. Demonstrably justified
  3. Yet recognizing that we live in a free and democratic society.

The justified limitations test contains within it a very real tension. On the one hand there is a limitation on a freedom. On the other there is a recognition of freedom in that we live in a free and democratic society. I would suggest that although NZBORA does not use this language, the emphasis upon a free and democratic society, and the requirement of reasonableness and demonstrable justification imports an element of necessity. Is the limitation of the freedom necessary?

The problem with freedom of expression is that it is elusive. What sort of limitations on the freedom of expression may be justified?

Freedom of Expression in Practice

The reality with freedom of expression is that it is most tested when we hear things with which we disagree. It is not limited to the comfortable space of agreeable ideas.

Salman Rushdie said that without the freedom to offend the freedom of expression is nothing. Many critics of current debates seem to conflate the freedom to express those ideas with the validity of those ideas, and their judgement on the latter means that they deny the freedom to express them.

The case of Redmond-Bate v DPP[34]  [1999] EWHC Admin 733 was about two women who were arrested for preaching on the steps of a church. Sedley LJ made the following comments:[35]

“I am unable to see any lawful basis for the arrest or therefore the conviction. PC Tennant had done precisely the right thing with the three youths and sent them on their way. There was no suggestion of highway obstruction. Nobody had to stop and listen. If they did so, they were as free to express the view that the preachers should be locked up or silenced as the appellant and her companions were to preach. Mr. Kealy for the prosecutor submitted that if there are two alternative sources of trouble, a constable can properly take steps against either. This is right, but only if both are threatening violence or behaving in a manner that might provoke violence. Mr. Kealy was prepared to accept that blame could not attach for a breach of the peace to a speaker so long as what she said was inoffensive. This will not do. Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. What Speakers’ Corner (where the law applies as fully as anywhere else) demonstrates is the tolerance which is both extended by the law to opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear. From the condemnation of Socrates to the persecution of modern writers and journalists, our world has seen too many examples of state control of unofficial ideas. A central purpose of the European Convention on Human Rights has been to set close limits to any such assumed power. We in this country continue to owe a debt to the jury which in 1670 refused to convict the Quakers William Penn and William Mead for preaching ideas which offended against state orthodoxy.”

One way of shutting down debate and the freedom of expression is to deny a venue, as we have seen in the unwise decision of Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas to deny Mr Don Brash a chance to speak on campus. The Auckland City did the same with the recent visit by speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.

Lord Justice Sir Stephen Sedley (who wrote the judgement in Redmond-Bate v DPP above) writing privately, commented on platform denial in this way:

” A great deal of potentially offensive speech takes place in controlled or controllable forums – schools, universities, newspapers, broadcast media – which are able to make and enforce their own rules. For these reasons it may be legitimate to criticise a periodical such as Charlie Hebdo for giving unjustified offence – for incivility, in other words – without for a moment wanting to see it or any similarly pungent periodical penalised or banned. Correspondingly, the “no platform” policies adopted by many tertiary institutions and supported in general by the National Union of Students are intended to protect minorities in the student body from insult or isolation. But the price of this, the stifling of unpopular or abrasive voices, is a high one, and it is arguable that it is healthier for these voices to be heard and challenged. Challenge of course brings its own problems: is it legitimate to shout a speaker down? But these are exactly the margins of civility which institutions need to think about and manage. They are not a justification for taking sides by denying unpopular or abrasive speakers a platform.”[36]

So the upshot of all this is that we should be careful in overreacting in efforts to control, monitor, stifle or censor speech with which we disagree but which may not cross the high threshold of “dangerous speech”. And certainly be careful in trying to hobble the Internet platforms and the ISPs. Because of the global distributed nature of the Internet it would be wrong for anyone to impose their local values upon a world wide communications network. The only justifiable solution would be one that involved international consensus and a recognition of the importance of freedom of expression.

Conclusion

The function of government is to protect its citizens from harm and to hold those who cause harm accountable. By the same token a free exchange of ideas is essential in a healthy and diverse democracy. In such a way diversity of opinion is as essential as the diversity of those who make up the community.

I have posited a solution that recognizes and upholds freedom of expression and yet recognizes that there is a threshold below which untrammeled freedom of expression can cause harm. It is when expression falls below that threshold that the interference of the law is justified,

I have based my proposal upon a term based upon an identifiable and objective consequence – speech which is dangerous – rather than the term “hate speech”. Indeed there are some who suggest that mature democracies should move beyond “hate speech” laws.[37] Ash suggests that it is impossible to reach a conclusive verdict upon the efficacy of “hate speech” laws and suggests that there is scant evidence that mature democracies with extensive hate speech laws manifest any less racism, sexism or other kinds of prejudice than those with few or no such laws.[38] Indeed, it has been suggested that the application of “hate speech” laws has been unpredictable and disproportionate. A further problem with “hate speech” is that they tend to encourage people to take offence rather than learn to live with the fact that there is a diversity of opinions, or ignore it or deal with it by speaking back – preferably with reasoned argument rather than veto statements.

It is for this reason that I have approached the problem from the perspective of objective, identifiable harm rather than wrestling with the very fluid concept of “hate speech.” For that I may be criticized for ducking the issue. The legal solution proposed is a suggested way of confronting the issue rather than ducking it. It preserves freedom of expression as an essential element of a healthy and functioning democracy yet recognizes that there are occasions when individuals and members of groups may be subjected to physical danger arising from forms of expression.

What is essential is that the debate should be conducted in a measured, objective and unemotive manner. Any interference with freedom of expression must be approached with a considerable degree of care. An approach based upon an objectively identifiable danger rather than an emotive concept such as “hate” provides a solution.

[1] Presumably on the grounds that they depict, promote or encourage crime or terrorism or that the publication is injurious to the public good. See the definition of objectionable in the Films Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993

[2] Timothy Garton Ash Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Atlantic Books, London 2016) p. 211

[3] US v Schwimmer 279 US 644 (1929)

[4] Daphne Patai Heterophobia: sexual harassment and the future of feminism (Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham 1998).

[5] See Irving v Penguin Books Ltd [2000] EWHC  QB 115.

[6] Jeremy Waldron The Harm in Hate Speech (Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2012 p. 120.

[7] Beauharnais v Illinois 343 US 250 (1952).

[8] Section 307A reads as follows:

307A Threats of harm to people or property

(1)           Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years if, without lawful justification or reasonable excuse, and intending to achieve the effect stated in subsection (2), he or she—

(a)           threatens to do an act likely to have 1 or more of the results described in subsection (3); or

(b)           communicates information—

(i)            that purports to be about an act likely to have 1 or more of the results described in subsection (3); and

(ii)           that he or she believes to be false.

(2)           The effect is causing a significant disruption of 1 or more of the following things:

(a)           the activities of the civilian population of New Zealand:

(b)           something that is or forms part of an infrastructure facility in New Zealand:

(c)            civil administration in New Zealand (whether administration undertaken by the Government of New Zealand or by institutions such as local authorities, District Health Boards, or boards of trustees of schools):

(d)           commercial activity in New Zealand (whether commercial activity in general or commercial activity of a particular kind).

(3)           The results are—

(a)           creating a risk to the health of 1 or more people:

(b)           causing major property damage:

(c)            causing major economic loss to 1 or more persons:

(d)           causing major damage to the national economy of New Zealand.

(4)           To avoid doubt, the fact that a person engages in any protest, advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring that a person has committed an offence against subsection (1).

[9] [2013] DCR 482. For a full discussion of this case see David Harvey Collisions in the Digital Paradigm: Law and rulemaking in the Internet Age (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017) at p. 268 and following.

[10] Police v Joseph above at [2].

[11] Ibid at [7].

[12] [2011] NZSC 45.

[13] Ibid at para [123].

[14] See Human Rights Commission chief legal advisor Janet Bidois quoted in Michelle Duff “Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings” Stuff 30 March 2019. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-shooting/111661809/hate-crime-law-review-fasttracked-following-christchurch-mosque-shooting

[15] Human Rights Act 1993 sections 21 – 63.

[16] Ibid section 65.

[17] Ibid section 66

[18] Ibid sections 67 and 69.

[19] The provisions of section 61(1) state:

(1)           It shall be unlawful for any person—

(a)           to publish or distribute written matter which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or to broadcast by means of radio or television or other electronic communication words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting; or

(b)           to use in any public place as defined in section 2(1) of the Summary Offences Act 1981, or within the hearing of persons in any such public place, or at any meeting to which the public are invited or have access, words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting; or

(c)            to use in any place words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting if the person using the words knew or ought to have known that the words were reasonably likely to be published in a newspaper, magazine, or periodical or broadcast by means of radio or television,—

being matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons in or who may be coming to New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.

It should be noted that Internet based publication is encompassed by the use of the words “or other electronic communication”.

[20] Derek Cheng “Winston Peters criticizes Brunei for imposing strict Sharia law” NZ Herald 31 March 2019 https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12217917

[21] New Zealand Law Commission Ministerial Briefing Paper Harmful Digital Communications:The adequacy of the current sanctions and remedies. (New Zealand Law Commission, Wellington, August 2012) https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/projectAvailableFormats/NZLC%20MB3.pdf (last accessed 26 April 2019)

[22] See David Harvey Collisions in the Digital Paradigm: Law and Rulemaking in the Internet (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2017) especially at Chapter 2

[23] Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 section 11.

[24] Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 section 22(4).

[25] It may also include a consensual or non-consensual intimate video recording

[26] Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 section 6. These principles are as follows:

Principle 1  A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.

Principle 2  A digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing.

Principle 3  A digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual.

Principle 4 A digital communication should not be indecent or obscene.

Principle 5  A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.

Principle 6  A digital communication should not make a false allegation.

Principle 7  A digital communication should not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence.

Principle 8  A digital communication should not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual.

Principle 9  A digital communication should not incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide.

Principle 10 A digital communication should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

[27] http://netsafe.org.nz

[28] Harmful Digital Communications Act Section 22(1)(c)

[29] See Police v B [2017] NZHC 526.

[30] For some of the statistics on prosecutions under the Act see Nikki MacDonald “Revenge Porn: Is the Harmful Digital Communications Act Working?” 9 March 2019 https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/110768981/revenge-porn-is-the-harmful-digital-communications-act-working

[31] Harmful Digital Communications Act Section 16(4)

[32] Harmful Digital Communications Act Section 3(b)

[33] See New Zealand Bill of Rights Act section 6. Note also that the Harmful Digital Communications Act provides at section 6 that in performing its functions or exercising powers under the Act the Approved Agency and the Courts must act consistently with the rights and freedoms provided in NZBORA.

[34] [1999] EWHC Admin 733.

[35] Ibid at  para [20].

[36] Stephen Sedley Law and the Whirligig of Time (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2018) p. 176-177. The emphasis is mine.

[37] For example see Timothy Garton Ash Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Atlantic, London 2016) especially at 219 and following.

[38] Ibid.

Do Social Network Providers Require (Further?) Regulation – A Commentary

This is a review and commentary of the Sir Henry Brooke Student Essay Prize winning essay for 2019. The title of the essay topic was “Do Social Network Providers Require (Further?) Regulation

Sir Henry Brooke was a Court of Appeal judge in England. He became a tireless campaigner during retirement on issues including access to justice. His post-judicial renown owed much to his enthusiastic adoption of digital technology although he spear-headed early initiatives for technology in courts and led and was first Chair of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) – a website that provides access to English and Irish case and statute law. Upon his retirement many came to know of him through his blog and tweets. He drafted significant sections of the Bach Commission’s final report on access to justice, and also acted as patron to a number of justice organisations including the Public Law Project, Harrow Law Centre and Prisoners Abroad.

The SCL (Society for Computers and Law) Sir Henry Brooke Student Essay Prize honours his legacy.  For 2019 the designated essay question this year was 2000-2,500 words on the prompt “Do social network providers require (further?) regulation?” the winner was Robert Lewis from the University of Law. His essay considers some of the regulatory responses to social media. His starting point is the events of 15 March 2019 in Christchurch.

The first point that he makes is that

“(h)orrors such as Christchurch should be treated cautiously: they often lead to thoughtless or reflexive responses on the part of the public and politicians alike.”

One of his concerns is the possibility of regulation by outrage, given the apparent lack of accountability of social networking platforms.

He then goes on to examine some examples of legislative and legal responses following 15 March and demonstrates the problem with reflexive responses. He starts with the classification of the live stream footage and the manifesto posted by the alleged shooter. He referred to a warning by the Department of Internal Affairs that those in possession of the material should delete it.

He then examines some of the deeper ramifications of the decision. Classification instantly rendered any New Zealander with the video still in his computer’s memory cache, or in any of his social media streams, knowingly or not, potentially guilty of a criminal offence under s.131 of Films Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. He comments

“Viewing extracts of  the footage shown on such websites was now illegal in New Zealand, as was the failure to have adequately wiped your hard drive having viewed the footage prior to its classification. A significant proportion of the country’s population was, in effect, presented with a choice: collective self-censorship or criminality.”

Whilst he concedes that the decision may have been an example of civic responsibility, in his opinion it did not make good law. Mr. Lewis points out that the legislation was enacted in 1993 just as the Internet was going commercial. His view is that the law targets film producers, publishers and commercial distributors, pointing out that

“these corporate entities have largely been supplanted by the social network providers who enjoy broad exemptions from the law, which has instead been inverted to criminalise “end users”, namely the public which the law once served to protect.”

He also made observations about the maximum penalties which are minimal against the revenue generated by social media platforms.

He then turned his attention to the case of the arrest of a 22 year old man charged with sharing the objectionable video online. He commented that

“that faced with mass public illegality, and a global corporation with minimal liability, New Zealand authorities may have sought to make an example of a single individual. Again, this cannot be good law.”

Mr. Lewis uses this as a springboard for a discussion about the “safe harbor” provisions of the Communications Decency Act (US) and EU Directive 2000/31/EC, which created the “safe harbour” published or distributed.

Mr Lewis gives a telling example of some of the difficulties encountered by the actions of social media platforms in releasing state secrets and the use of that released information as evidence in unrelated cases. He observes

“The regulatory void occupied by social network providers neatly mirrors another black hole in Britain’s legal system: that of anti-terrorism and state security. The social network providers can be understood as part of the state security apparatus, enjoying similar privileges, and shrouded in the same secrecy. The scale of their complicity in data interception and collection is unknown, as is the scale and level of the online surveillance this apparatus currently performs. The courts have declared its methods unlawful on more than one occasion and may well do so again.”

A theme that becomes clear from his subsequent discussion is that the current situation with apparently unregulated social media networks is evidence of a collision between the applicability of the law designed for a pre-digital environment and the challenges to the expectations of the applicability of the law in the digital paradigm. For example, he observes that

“The newspapers bear legal responsibility for their content. British television broadcasters are even under a duty of impartiality and accuracy. In contrast, social network providers are under no such obligations. The recent US Presidential election illustrates how invidious this is.”

He also takes a tilt at those who describe the Internet as “the Wild West”.

“This is an unfortunate phrase. The “wild west” was lawless: the lands of the American west, prior to their legal annexation by the United States, were without legal systems, and any pre-annexation approximation of one was illegal in and of itself. In contrast, the social network providers reside in highly developed, and highly regulated, economies where they are exempted from certain legal responsibilities. These providers have achieved enormous concentrations of capital and political influence for precisely this reason.”

He concludes with the observation that unlawful behaviour arises from a failure to apply the law as it exists and ends with a challenge:

“ In England, this application – of a millennium-old common law tradition to a modern internet phenomenon such as the social networks – is the true task of the technology lawyer. The alternative is the status quo, a situation where the online publishing industry has convinced lawmakers “that its capacity to distribute harmful material is so vast that it cannot be held responsible for the consequences of its own business model.””

The problem that I have with this essay is that it suggests a number of difficulties but, apart from suggesting that the solution lies in the hands of technology lawyers, no coherent solution is suggested. It cites examples of outdated laws, of the difficulty of retroactive solutions and the mixed blessings and problems accompanying social media platforms. The question really is whether or not the benefits outweigh the disadvantages that these new communications platforms provide. There are a number of factors which should be considered.

First, we must recognize that in essence social media platforms enhance and enable communication and the free exchange of ideas – albeit that they may be banal, maudlin or trivial – which is a value of the democratic tradition.

Secondly, we must recognize and should not resent the fact that social media platforms are able to monetise the mere presence of users of the service. This seems to be done in a number or what may appear to be arcane ways, but they reflect the basic concept of what Robert A. Heinlein called TANSTAFL – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Users should not expect service provided by others to be absolutely free.

Thirdly, we must put aside doctrinaire criticisms of social media platforms as overwhelming big businesses that have global reach. Doing business on the Internet per se involves being in a business with global reach. The Internet extends beyond our traditional Westphalian concepts of borders, sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Fourthly, we must recognize that the Digital Paradigm by its very nature has within it various aspects – I have referred to them elsewhere as properties – that challenge and contradict many of our earlier pre-digital expectations of information and services. In this respect many of our rules which have a basis in underlying qualities of earlier paradigms and the values attaching to them are not fit for purpose. But does this mean that we adapt those rules to the new paradigm and import the values (possibly no longer relevant) underpinning them or should we start all over with a blank slate?

Fifthly, we must recognize that two of the realities in digital communications have been permissionless innovation – a concept that allows a developer to bolt an application on to the backbone – and associated with that innovation, continuous disruptive change.

These are two of the properties I have mentioned above. What we must understand is that if we start to interfere with say permissionless innovation and tie the Internet up with red tape, we may be if not destroying but seriously inhibiting the further development of this communications medium. This solution would, of course, be attractive to totalitarian regimes that do not share democratic values such as freedom of expression

Sixthly, we have to accept that disruptive change in communications methods, behaviours and values is a reality. Although it may be comfortable to yearn for a nostalgic but non-existent pre digital Golden Age, by the time such yearning becomes expressed it is already too late. If we drive focused upon the rear view mirror we are not going to recognize the changes on the road ahead. Thus, the reality of modern communications is that ideas to which we may not have been exposed by monolithic mainstream media are now being made available. Extreme views, which may in another paradigm, have been expressed within a small coterie, are now accessible to all who wish to read or see them. This may be an uncomfortable outcome for many but it does not mean that these views have only just begun to be expressed. They have been around for some time. It is just that the property of exponential dissemination means that these views are now available. And because of the nature of the Internet, many of these views may not in any event be available to all or even searchable, located, as many of them are, away from the gaze of search engines on the Dark Web.

Seventhly, it is only once we understand not only the superficial content layer but the deeper implications of the digital paradigm – McLuhan expressed it as “the medium is the message” can we begin to develop any regulatory strategies that we need to develop.

Eighthly, in developing regulatory strategies we must ask ourselves whether they are NECESSARY. What evil are the policies meant to address. As I have suggested above, the fact that a few social media and digital platforms are multi-national organisations with revenue streams that are greater than the GDP of a small country is not a sufficient basis for regulation per se – unless the regulating authority wishes to maintain its particular power base. But then, who is to say that Westphalian sovereignty has not had its day. Furthermore, it is my clear view that any regulatory activity must be the minimum that is required to address the particular evil. And care must be taken to avoid the “unintended consequences” to which Mr Lewis has referred and some of which I have mentioned above.

Finally, we are faced with an almost insoluble problem when it comes to regulation in the Digital Paradigm. It is this. The legislative and regulatory process is slow although the changes to New Zealand’s firearms legislation post 15 March could be said to have been done with unusual haste. The effect has been that the actions of one person have resulted in relieving a large percentage of the population of their lawfully acquired property. Normally the pace of legislative or regulatory change normally is slow, deliberative and time consuming.

On the other hand, change in the digital paradigm is extremely fast. For example, when I started my PhD thesis in 2004 I contemplated doing something about digital technologies. As it happens I didn’t and looked at the printing press instead. But by the time my PhD was conferred, social media happened. And now legislators are looking at social media as if it was new but by Internet standards it is a mature player. The next big thing is already happening and by the time we have finally worked out what we are going to do about social media, artificial intelligence will be demanding attention. And by the time legislators get their heads around THAT technology in all its multiple permutations, some thing else – perhaps quantum computing – will be with us.

I am not saying therefore that regulating social media should be put in the “too hard” basket but that what regulation there is going to be must be focused, targeted, necessary, limited to a particular evil and done with a full understanding of the implications of the proposed regulatory structures.

Diluting Prejudice

By way of preface this is a paper that followed a presentation at the Criminal Bar Conference in Auckland in 2018. It was submitted for publication the the NZ Criminal Law Review – the organ of the Criminal Bar Association – but continued delays have meant that the paper has not seen the light of day.

I have never had to publish or perish for Performance Based Research Funding and the only benefit that I can see with academic publishing is that a piece gets peer reviewed. One of the things that the Internet allows is for an automatic peer review process to take place once a blog post is put up. The upshot of all this is that I think I shall use this blog for my academic as well as non-academic pieces. As far as quotability or peer reviewing is concerned – as Caesar said – iacta alia est.

A copy of this paper has also been posted on Scribd – https://www.scribd.com/document/419303736/Diluting-Prejudice

 

Diluting Prejudice

David Harvey[1]

Abstract

This paper is about the steps that may be taken to dilute but not totally eliminate the prejudicial effect of on-line material that relates to a defendant about to stand trial. It is posited upon the fact that jurors, despite strong judicial directions, will go on-line to seek out information relevant to the case that they are trying. The solution lies in the use of what could be described as “take-down” orders whereby material is removed from websites and de-indexed from search engines during the course of the trial to eliminate or dilute any prejudice that may otherwise arise. The remedy of a “take-down” order restores the qualities of practical and partial obscurity of prejudicial information that was a characteristic of the pre-Digital Paradigm. The paper also discusses the issue of juror contempt in light of proposed changes to the law in the Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt) Bill.

I.            Introduction

In my article “The Googling Juror: The Fate of the Jury Trial in the Digital Paradigm” I considered the challenges posed by the Internet to the criminal jury trial.[2] The Internet has dramatically changed the way in which people obtain, use, share and relate to information.[3] As a result, it has become more difficult to shield jurors from extraneous information during trial and, as I observed, it is easier for jurors to undertake their own research or share information about a trial beyond the courtroom. Visiting a scene can be done virtually by using Google Earth or Google Street View. Such information is increasingly readily available on the Internet via a computer or a smartphone.

I referred to a suggestion that to address the problem of juror attempts to access online information relevant to the trial, lawyers could conduct their own Internet research in advance to identify what information about the case is available, analyse it and deal with it during trial.  I observed that Courts in dealing with applications for severance and change of venue evaluated pre-trial publicity and these practices could provide a possible framework for evaluating new online sources of information that courts and jurors might access before or during trial.[4]

This article considers another remedy that may be available to deal with highly prejudicial information that may be on-line relating to a trial or to an accused. A   “take-down” order may be made, directed at an online content host requiring the removal of prejudicial content during the course of the trial.[5] Associated with such an order may be a requirement for the de-indexing of the material from a search engine such as Google, again during the course of the trial. It is acknowledged that such orders will not provide a complete answer to the problem, nor would an order for suppression pursuant to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011. However they will serve to dilute the possible prejudicial effect accompanying pre-trial publicity.

The article commences with some observations about aspects of pre-trial publicity and the ability to recall such information in the pre-Digital Paradigm. It will be suggested that in this pre-Digital informational environment, given the various obstructions to the speedy recovery of archived information, compliance with judicial directions to jurors to refrain from carrying out their own investigations was likely to be greater.

Consideration will move to how the Internet challenges those previous assumptions about information, why it is that jurors are able to ignore judicial directions and why they might be likely to do so. This discussion will reflect on recent examples from cases where such directions have been ignored.

The discussion will then turn to recent cases involving take down orders. A number of cases will be considered with a focus upon four of them and the themes and assumptions arising from them. An attempt shall be made to ascertain why in these cases it is assumed that judicial directions will reduce the likelihood of jurors carrying out their own Internet-based investigations. It will be argued that this confidence is misplaced and that pro-active judicial information management is necessary to protect the right to a fair trial in the Digital Paradigm.

The importance of the evaluation of the content the subject of a take-down order will be considered with the tension that exists between the freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial as a backdrop.

Some of the proposals of the Law Commission and the use of court orders for a take-down of the material as a prophylactic to contempt will be contemplated .

There is now no doubt that the Court has the power to make take down orders. Practical considerations will be addressed including the procedure that should be adopted, those who should be served and heard on a take-down application and the type of information that should be put before the Court. The attitude of Google LLC to compliance with domestic Court orders has been the subject of some media publicity;[6] a possible solution to this apparent difficulty will be suggested.

The article will conclude with some thoughts about some possible futures for take-down orders as we move further into the Digital Paradigm.

 

II.         The Nature of Information and the “Fade Factor”

As the passage of time dulls memory, the impact and freshness of a news report is lost. This has been judicially recognised in cases where there has been a high level of publicity. Examples may be found in the cases of R v Bailey[7] and Iti v R[8] which both involved suspected terrorist activity in the Ureweras which attracted a high level of media interest. The effluxion of time meant that jurors might recall some of the publicity but not to the extent that a fair trial would be prevented.[9] In R v Reddy the Court, in noting that retrials may be held in the same location as the original trial, referred to the “fade factor” [10]

“because any attendant negative or prejudicial publicity is presumed to have faded from potential jurors minds. The collective memory of the public is subject to a “fade factor””[11]

Before the advent of the Internet in what may be termed the analogue or kinetic paradigm, the distribution and dissemination of information about a police investigation or a particular crime was almost exclusively through the news media – newspapers, radio or television. Despite the fact that television is seen as an influential medium, pre-Internet, it relied on what could be termed an “appointment viewing” model. Like radio, the audience had to be present in front of a receiver to listen to or view the broadcast. Once the broadcast had taken place, unless it was repeated, that was the only chance the listener had to hear or see the content.

Newspapers and magazines were slightly more enduring and could be read and re-read at leisure. However, the long term retention of copies of newspapers or the articles published was left more to the “morgues” of the newspapers themselves or the archives of a local library.

Another aspect of information dissemination was the way in which mainstream media was organised as a business. The method of dissemination for newspapers, radio and TV was (and generally still is) from a centrally located conglomerate –a radio or television studio or a newspaper publishing facility – to a widely distributed audience. This allowed for the control of the content and flow of information from the media organisation to the public audience.

The presence of these pre-Internet factors presented obstacles to the retrieval of historic pre-trial publicity about a case that enhanced the “fade factor”. These obstacles can be described as practical and partial obscurity.

  1. Practical Obscurity

Practical obscurity refers to the quality of availability of information which may be of a private or public nature.[12]  Such information may be indexed, in a central location or locations such as public libraries or newspaper rooms, in hard copy format, and is frequently location-dependent in that the information will refer only to the particular area served by that location. Interaction is required with librarians, officials or bureaucrats to locate it and to an extent prior knowledge of the particular file or repository within which the information source lies is required.

Practical obscurity means that information is not indexed on key words or key concepts, but generally on the basis of individual files or in relation to a named individual or named location.  Thus, it is again necessary to have some prior knowledge of information to enable a search for the appropriate file to be made. These are obstacles to the ready access to information. [13]

One practical example is the operation of hard copy newspaper archives. The ability to access a back copy of a newspaper poses a number of obstacles: travel to the repository by public or private transport, locating the volume within which the newspaper may be located and then laboriously reading through each copy of the newspaper until the article is located. The process is further complicated by the fact that hard copy of old newspapers is no longer available and the copies of newspapers are on microfilm.

  1. Partial Obscurity

Partial obscurity addresses information of a private nature which may earlier have been in the public arena, in a newspaper, television or radio broadcast, or some other form of mass media communication. Later than information can only be recalled in part as the result of the inability of memory to retain all the detail. Thus, a broad sketch of the information renders the details obscure, only leaving the major heads of the information available in memory, hence the term partial obscurity.  This underpins the concept of the “fade factor” referred to above.

To recover particulars of the information will require resort to film, video, radio or newspaper archives, thus bringing into play the concepts of practical obscurity. Partial obscurity may enable information which is subject to practical obscurity to be obtained more readily because some of the informational references enabling the location of the practically obscure information can be provided.

These two factors exemplify the logistical difficulties confronting a would-be “investigative juror.” The “fade factor” worked to dilute and reduce the impact of any potentially prejudicial publicity so that whatever memory a juror might have gathered from pre-trial publicity about the circumstances of a case would have significantly reduced. Thus the clear recitation of events in the formal court-room setting would be far more likely to supplant any memory based or vague recollection of events. A direction to focus upon the evidence was far more likely than not to receive compliance simply because of the difficulties a juror might encounter in trying to locate earlier reports of a case.

This is not to say that the news media never overstepped the mark and published material that was prejudicial. It is for this reason that a remedy lay for publication contempt where there was a real risk, as distinct from a remote possibility, that a publication interfered with the right to a fair trial.[14] The strength of the test demonstrates that the nature of the publication might be likely to override the “fade factor” or the effects of partial and practical obscurity.

C.   The Internet as a Problem

The Internet challenges these concepts and indeed the “fade factor”. One writer has characterised the Internet as “digital memory”.[15] To understand the nature of the challenge, it is necessary to briefly sketch the topic of information qualities. These qualities have been developed to distinguish digital information from that of the pre-digital era. Information qualities sit below the content layer and involve a consideration of the medium of communication. In this way, McLuhan’s aphorism “The Medium is the Message” comes into sharp focus.

It would be wrong to say that the qualities of digital information are completely novel. Some are present in the pre-Digital Paradigm but as new technologies have become available these qualities have been enhanced. For example the quality of dissemination that Elizabeth Eisenstein argued was one of those that characterised and differentiated print technology from those of the scribal culture is present in the Digital Paradigm but to an extent unimagined in the print paradigm, limited as it was by the physical nature of copies.[16]

Along with the quality of exponential dissemination, two other qualities of digital information technologies – information persistence and information searchability\retrievability – especially highlight the paradigmatic difference that online information presents to the earlier Kinetic Paradigm.

Information persistence recognises that once information reaches the Internet it is very difficult to remove. It spreads through the network of computers that comprise the Internet and may be retained by any one of them. It has been described as the phenomenon of “the document that does not die”. Although information may be difficult to locate on the Internet, information persistence means that it will be available somewhere, if only in an archive. The fact that information is persistent means that it can be located by the digital equivalent of an archaeological dig – except that the trowel and spade are replaced by a search engine, which brings us to the searchability\retrievability quality.

Searchability\retrievability falls within the classification of user associated qualities, although there is a technical aspect to it as well. The technical aspect lies within the makeup of digital information. That information is in digital format which means that it can be searched. This is in startling contrast to information in documentary form which must be read – what is referred to as manual review – to retrieve relevant information.

Electronic discovery demonstrates the way in which the machine itself provides an answer to a machine-based problem. In litigation, huge volumes of digital information require analysis to determine the files or materials that are relevant to the case in question. To print out what often amounts to tens of thousands of pages, which then would have to bee manually reviewed, is seen as disproportionate in terms of time and cost. Software tools are thus deployed in e-discovery exercises, built upon the premise of quality of searchability of digital information.

The most ubiquitous search tool on the Internet is Google, but the same model underlies all search engines.

Search engines consist of 3 main parts. Search engine “spiders” follow links on the web to request pages that are either not yet indexed or have been updated since they were last indexed. These pages are “crawled” and are added to the search engine index (also known as the catalog). When the user searches using a major search engine, what in fact is searched is a slightly outdated index of content which roughly represents the available indexed content of the web. The third part of a search engine is the search interface and relevancy software. The search engine adjusts the search query for spelling variations, checks to see if the query is relevant to other vertical search databases and gathers a list of relevant pages, ranked according to the parameters in the page ranking software.[17]

Search engines are essential for the proper functioning of the Internet. Without them, the information that is located in servers on the network would be largely inaccessible unless the user was aware of the location of that information.[18]

The basic search using a search engine is one way of obtaining information required. Electronic material can be cross-referenced and indexed according to a number of criteria and may be selected on the basis of content as well as other identifying information. Using a full-text search, it may be possible to pinpoint information that may not be returned using standard keyword or metadata based searching.[19]  Indeed, if court decisions and records are open to web crawlers or web mining, past case information may be retrieved.[20]

Thus it may be seen that the concepts of partial and practical obscurity are overturned by the qualities of online digital information. Indeed, prejudicial information about a defendant, his previous criminal activities, associations and possibly even his convictions can be made available to an enquirer with ease.

In addition, the Internet reverses the “flow of information”. In the model of partial\practical obscurity the enquirer was required to go to the information; in the Digital Paradigm the information flows to the enquirer. Furthermore it has the same immediacy of the original publication had and is presented in “news” format. This “replication and recovery” of earlier news information has, depending upon the content, the potential to be highly prejudicial to a defendant’s “fair trial” rights.

The concerns that were expressed particularly by Wylie J about “historic” information and the lengths that a juror might have to go to locate prejudicial information overlooks a number of matters. [21] First, as has been observed, the Internet allows for the preservation of information so that when it is read it is as fresh as the day it was first published and its impact is maintained. Secondly, search engines enable the recovery of this information. As has been suggested, the Internet challenges the concepts of partial and practical obscurity. A “googling juror” need only search on identification particulars that are raised in the course of the trial to locate information. With respect, Wylie J probably underestimates the sophistication of search engines, their ability to retrieve information and the skill of an ever-widening community in being able to locate Internet based information. The emphasis on historic material is misplaced. If it is on the Internet, it is retrievable with the assistance of a search engine.

 

III.       Do Jurors Go Online?

A.   Internet Accessibility

Given the accessibility of information via Internet platforms, the likelihood of jurors conducting online researches is increased. To understand the nature of the problem it is necessary to appreciate the accessibility that New Zealanders have to the Internet.

The Institute of Culture, Discourse and Communication at Auckland University of Technology has conducted a number of surveys of Internet use in New Zealand under the name of the World Internet Project New Zealand (WIPNZ).

The fourth survey of WIPNZ was conducted between late July and early September 2013. In the Executive Summary the following observation is made about Internet usage on the part of the 2006 New Zealanders surveyed.

“For a large number of people the internet is used daily. Four out of five spend an hour or more online at home every day. Almost everyone under 40 is online, so that only 1% of our under-40 sample are non-users. Accessing the internet ‘on the go’ is prevalent. Seven out of ten users access the internet from a hand-held mobile device such as a smartphone or an iPad. Almost half of the internet users surveyed (48%) said that they had accessed the internet through a tablet, while an even higher proportion (68%) connected through their mobile phone in the past year.”[22]

The findings of the 2013 report indicate that Internet usage by a large sector of the New Zealand community is routine.

The 2015 WIPNZ report continued to monitor Internet usage patterns. Of those surveyed, only 8% did not use the Internet and were divided into ex-users (3%) and never-users (5%). This means that of those surveyed in 2015 92% were Internet users. Only 11% of the sample were described as low level users.[23]

The most recent survey indicates that 93.8% of the population have Internet connections but only 80% have a home connection. There are some 3.85 million mobile Internet connections – a figure which has stayed relatively steady with fluctuation over the last five years between 82% in 2013 and 79% in 2015 and 2017. Improved infrastructure and the introduction of ultrafast broadband has resulted in increased upload and download speeds and the uptake of fibre is fuelling large rises in data being used across New Zealand networks.[24]

The importance of this statistical information is that it demonstrates how Internet access and use has become part of the normal life of New Zealanders. It can be deduced from this that most, if not all, members of a jury pool will be Internet users, accustomed to Internet use and comfortable with obtaining information from the Internet.

B.   Overseas Juror Misconduct Studies

Having established that Internet access and use is a routine part of the lives of a very large number of New Zealanders, the discussion turns to a consideration of the use of the Internet by jurors. It is submitted that this is wider than may be initially thought, although no empirical research has as yet been conducted in New Zealand.

 

  1. England

However, juror use of the Internet has been studied in England by Professor Cheryl Thomas of University College London in a study undertaken in 2010 for the Ministry of Justice entitled “Are Juries Fair?”[25]  Professor Thomas’ study was conducted in three different locations (Nottingham, Winchester and London) and included 62 cases and 668 jurors. The sample included both long, high profile cases and standard cases lasting less than two weeks with little media coverage. Her findings revealed that those jurors who did seek out information did so using the Internet. Interestingly enough, more jurors said that they saw information on the Internet than those who admitted looking for Internet based information. The jurors admitted that they were doing something they had been told not to do, which may explain why more jurors said that they saw reports than those who admitted looking on the Internet.  There was a higher incidence of Internet enquiry in high profile cases.

81% of those who in these cases sought Internet-based information were over 30. Of all the sample who said they sought Internet-based information, 68% were over 30.[26] Professor Thomas’ study demonstrated that the problem of “The Googling Juror” is not limited to younger jurors.  67% of the jurors in Professor Thomas’ study were between the ages of 30 and 59. 17% were within the 18 – 29 year old age bracket in the Nottingham Crown Court study. The figures were 59% and 18% for the Winchester Crown Court. Thus the majority of jurors were over the age of 30.[27]

In a subsequent article Professor Thomas suggested that her research revealed that a small minority of jurors did not follow the rules relating to juror Internet use. [28]  She considered that conditions could amount to a “perfect storm” of improper juror conduct where jurors did not understand that they should not look for information (via the internet or elsewhere) about their case during the trial; that when jurors find such information they share it with other members of the jury; and where, even if other jurors know this behaviour is wrong, they are unwilling or do not know what to do to ensure that any verdict they return is fair.

In observing that it was impossible to monitor all aspects of Internet use during a trial, Professor Thomas was accepting that there would be some incidents of juror misconduct involving Internet use. Her position, in light of reviews that were proposed at the time of her article to English contempt of court laws, was that jurors need to understand what improper jury conduct is. Secondly, jurors need to clearly understand that if a fellow juror uses the internet improperly or if any improper conduct occurs it must be reported to the court. Thirdly, jurors must understand exactly how and when to report improper jury conduct and be provided with guidance that enables them to do so with ease.

 

Finally, Professor Thomas called for greater empirical evidence surrounding juror behaviour and what the best tools may be to assist them in performing their role. She urged that any reform of the law surrounding juror contempt should be based not on anecdotal evidence or high profile cases, but upon the fruits of such research.

  1. The United States

In the United States of America, one of the first surveys of jury behaviour was carried out by Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister.[29] This survey was somewhat wider than that of Professor Thomas in that it was sent to federal judges, prosecutors, and public defenders to learn how they viewed the impact of the Digital Age on jurors. The questions focussed primarily upon juror research and sought to assess the extent of the negative impact (if any) of the Digital Paradigm on jury service. 10% of respondents reported personal knowledge of juror research although it was acknowledged that this sort of behaviour was difficult to detect and probably under-represented the actual number of jurors who resorted to Internet-based research.[30]

In an article in which she explores emerging technologies and its effect upon electronic juror misconduct, Judge Antoinette Plogstedt gathered together a large selection of instances of juror misconduct which had come to the attention of the Court.[31]

The problem of what is referred to as “independent juror research”, or as we might call it “juror misconduct”, is the focus of an article by Robbie Manhas in which he argues that more liberalised procedural and evidentiary rules should be adopted to allow jurors to take a more active role in proceedings.[32]

Assessing the frequency of juror misconduct relies, as was the case in Professor Thomas’ study, upon self-reporting.

“In a preliminary study of the frequency of juror and jury use of new media, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) found that sizeable portions of trial jurors reported interest in using new media to conduct research on case-related topics and to communicate with friends and family about their jury service experience. Although the vast majority of jurors in that study had daily, if not immediate, access to new media, none of them admitted to acting on that desire. That study involved a very small sample of trials; however, it is clear from court opinions and news stories discussing the problem of the “Googling juror” that the risk is not purely hypothetical. In a review of court opinions published between 1998 and 2010, Thompson-Reuters reported that at least 90 verdicts were challenged based on claims of Internet-related juror misconduct. One-half of those challenges occurred between 2008 and 2010.”[33]

The National Center for State Courts developed a study in 2012 to explore the impact of new media on juries, and to establish the necessary survey and other methodologies needed to do so. A pilot jury study was undertaken in 15 civil and criminal trials.[34] Few jurors reported committing misconduct of any kind. However, a substantial portion either could not recall judicial prohibition on new media use or believed such searches were permissible. A sizeable proportion of jurors indicated a desire to use the Internet to obtain information relevant to the trial and a significant proportion indicated they would be unable to refrain from Internet use during the trial. Although the researchers were optimistic that the frequency of juror misconduct might be less than originally thought, the findings were less optimistic about the future. The vast majority of jurors had both technological access and the practical experience to use communications devices effortlessly and view these technologies as commonplace tools. The researchers observed that as younger cohorts join the jury pool access to the Internet and reliance on technologies for information will increase. They concluded

“A key factor will be the degree to which jurors continue to believe that the testimony of witnesses, especially expert witnesses hired by the parties, is more compelling evidence than what they can uncover on their own through information available to them via the Internet. Such conclusions will not be welcome news to those who wish to rely upon a more vigorous use of standard admonishments or on depriving jurors of access to the new media to keep the traditional, “unwired” jury.”[35]

In an earlier article I made the distinction between “information in” where jurors seek information about a trial or related matters, and “information out” where jurors communicate information about the trial or their experiences on social media.[36] Although the latter form of communication may prove ex post facto evidence or prejudice, the real concern must be the search for information relevant to the trial.[37]

Two surveys, although recognising that Internet-based juror misconduct may occur, conclude that jury instructions are the most effective tool to mitigate the risk of such misconduct.[38] The concerns surrounding those surveys were directed to wide issues of juror social media engagement during the course of a trial including communications during deliberations, communications with Facebook friends and jurors who blogged about their experiences. Although the surveys included incidents of juror research about a particular case, they covered a greater scope of misconduct.

The evidence is clear that there is a very real potential for jurors to go online and the possibility of a juror coming across prejudicial information (if it is available) is high. The number of incidents reported, especially from the United States, must give some cause for concern. Apart from the pervasiveness of and familiarity with the technology, it is suggested that there are deeper seated answers to the question why it is that jurors go online despite directions to the contrary.

IV.        Why Do Jurors Go Online?

Why is it that some jurors are prepared to ignore or flout judicial directions and carry out their own researches online? This is a question the answer to which is not clear and the detailed study by Professor Thomas does not conclusively answer. In pre-Internet days, juror researches involved physical engagement, either seeking information from a library or newspaper room or visiting a scene. These examples of practical obscurity are challenged by the Internet.

A.   Reversed Information Flows

The nature of information flows may serve to assist in clarifying the point. One of the factors that led to the practical obscurity of information was that the enquirer had to go and seek the information out. Thus the information flow was enquirer to information.

The availability of information online reverses that flow. Now the information moves towards the enquirer. There is little effort required, beyond carrying out a Google search, to seek out the information.

Coupled with this factor is that the enquirer is able to access the information from the privacy of his or her own home. This then leads to the way in which information can be sought surreptitiously. This quality of detachment may further explain why jurors are prepared to go online to seek out information.

Why is this significant? Juror enquiry is a recognised and recurring phenomenon. The consequences of such enquiry may be prejudicial to a fair trial and will result in mistrials and added delays in obtaining a fair outcome. Whilst an “after the event” solution such as a finding of contempt may contain certain deterrent qualities, a recognition of the phenomenon and an understanding of why it occurs will assist in considering and crafting possible remedies. The solution of a take-down order suggested in this paper, whilst not a cast iron one, will at least place obstacles in the path of juror enquiry.

Some of the drivers for juror enquiry that are inherent in digital information systems are now discussed.

B.   Because They Can

One of the disturbing realities of the Digital Paradigm is the ease with which information may be obtained. The time is well past where a requirement for Internet access is dependent upon a laptop or desktop computer. Access may be effected by means of a smart phone or a portable tablet using a wireless connection.

The instant availability of the resources of the Internet coupled with powerful search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo puts information in the hands of an Internet user in a matter of moments. The user may access the Internet not only at home but at a restaurant, café, on public transport and everywhere in between. Access can take place without apparent detection in the privacy of one’s own home. In addition, research indicates that access to the Internet for information has become the default.[39] The Internet has, in some respects, become a surrogate for memory as has already been suggested.[40]

C.   Different Rules Appear to Apply Online

The issue of whether or not there are, or should be, different rules for online behaviour has exercised Internet theorists from the 1990’s to the present day[41]. In some respects, the ease with which information may be accessed seems to suggest that earlier constraints on information access posed by practical and partial obscurity no longer exist. Accessing information on the Internet is more of a free-wheeling exercise aided by the quality of delinearisation of information which allows a user to follow whatever informational trails he or she may wish – from text to audio, to podcast to video, to a Youtube compilation or a learned article of the Social Science Research network[42].

This lack of constraint suggests to a user that following a query of interest is acceptable, even although it may have been the subject of an earlier prohibition. Why, in an information rich environment such as the Internet, should enquiry be limited? Trial lawyers and Judges have an immediate answer to that proposition, but to one not immersed in the legal culture, to restrict and limit enquiry when the information is so readily available seems counter-intuitive.

  1. Anonymity

Coupled with the private nature of information seeking is the illusion of anonymity given by the Internet. That illusion arises from the fact that an Internet user is rarely identified by name when engaging in a Google search or accessing a news website. The only identification assigned to a user is an Internet protocol number. The relationship between the IP number and the name of the individual is known to the individual’s Internet Service Provider. But unless the Internet user has identified him or herself on a platform, such as Facebook or Twitter, there is a form of anonymity that may engender a sense of immunity from consequences of one’s actions.

  1. The Online Disinhibition Effect

This sense of immunity is examined in some detail by in an article entitled “The Online Disinhibition Effect” by John Suler.[43]

Suler observes that often people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face to face world.  This online disinhibition effect can work in two possible directions.  One is benign disinhibition where people share very personal things about themselves, revealing secret emotions, wishes and fears.  Toxic disinhibition, on the other hand, involves the use of rude or offensive language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, theft and threats.[44]  People may visit the dark underworld of the Internet, involving themselves in pornography, crime and violence that they would never explore in the “real world”.

Benign disinhibition may be indicative of an attempt to better understand and develop oneself – a form of “working through” or self-actualisation.  On the other hand, toxic disinhibition may simply be a blind catharsis, a form of repetition compulsion and an acting out of unsavoury needs without any personal growth at all.[45]

Suler examines possible causes for online disinhibition and what elements of cyberspace lead to the weakening of psychological barriers that block hidden feelings and needs. He identifies a number of factors.  Relevant to this submission is that of “dissociative anonymity”.[46]

An aspect of dissociative anonymity, yet in some respects separate from it, is that of “invisibility”.  In text-driven online environments, people can’t see one another.  This “invisibility” gives people the courage to go places and do things which they would not otherwise do.[47]

Emily Finch, an author and criminal lawyer studying identity theft in cyberspace, suggests that some people “see their online life as a kind of game with norms and rules that do not apply to everyday living… Once they turn off the computer and return to their daily routine they believe they can leave behind that game and their game identity.”[48]

Suler also observes that within the online environment there is something of a democratisation that takes place with a “minimisation of status and authority”.  In the real world authority figures express their status and power in dress, body language and the trappings of their environmental settings.  The absence of these together with a lack of the person’s elevated position means that person’s online influence has less effect.[49]

On the Internet everyone has an equal opportunity to voice him or herself.  The Internet provides a level playing field and Internet philosophy holds that everyone is an equal and that the purpose of the Internet is to share ideas and resources among peers.  This atmosphere and philosophy contribute to the minimisation of authority.[50]  Most people, who would normally be reluctant to say what they really think as they stand before an authority figure, are faced online with what is effectively a peer relationship, where the appearances of authority are minimised and people are more willing to speak out and misbehave.[51]

It is submitted that these Internet associated behavioural traits may well provide an insight as to why jurors may feel inclined to ignore judicial direction not to carry out online researches about a case.

F.    Internet Democratisation and the Erosion of Authority

The introduction of Web 2.0 and the development of user interactivity has enabled immediate participation within a debate and the ability to share one’s thoughts through the use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

Furthermore, the ability to participate, engage in debate, seek out information and engage with others probably is the greatest opportunity to embark upon a form of participatory democracy.  On a global sense, that mirrors the Athenian form of participation and perhaps may even be the first time that the community has had such an opportunity to so engage.  The quality of participation is driving many governments towards considering on-line voting, recognising that the Internet enables an opportunity for greater engagement by the community with the political system.   The participatory possibilities of the Internet could well mean that, in the future, juries would hear trials on-line rather than being physically present in a court room.

On the other hand, the ability to interact allows many Internet users, especially on social media platforms, to have direct communication with others. This enables the ability to comment, dispute, debate and, sadly, to abuse other Internet users. The online disinhibition effect accounts for this breakdown of restraint in communication. Nevertheless this allows the digital equivalent of a “cat looking at a king” and the normal constraints and deference towards authority figures reduces when dialogue, debate, dispute and commentary become so easy. Although Judges may expect deference to their directions the gradual erosion of respect for authority based upon no other rationale than that of authority alone, especially when a direction may appear to be contrary to rapidly evolving cultural norms and information expectations, means that the weight attributed to a judicial direction may be reduced.

It will by now be apparent that simple reliance upon judicial directions to juries to refrain from accessing information about a case on the Internet may be ill-advised in light of changing cultural attitudes and information expectations. I shall now turn to some examples of juror misconduct in New Zealand and then move on the discuss the issue of take down orders.

  1. Cases and Examples in New Zealand

The phenomenon of jurors obtaining or receiving information from outside the Courtroom is not unknown in New Zealand.[52] For example, in one reported case, print-outs containing definitions of the “burden of proof” and “beyond reasonable doubt” were found in the jury room. This information had been sourced from the United States and did not correctly state New Zealand law.[53]Examples such as this occur despite observations that have been made about the efficacy of judicial directions and the fact that Judges are able to measure that efficacy in verdicts delivered by juries who, by their verdicts, show that they have understood and followed directions, including those as to prejudice and proper use of evidence.

Although this article takes the decisions in R v Tarapata[54] and Police v Kahia[55] as indicative of the main issues that surround take-down orders, there are a number of other cases that have come before the Courts where take-down orders have been considered. In some cases the orders have been granted, in others they have been refused and I propose briefly to refer to those cases. It should be observed that in the main the same major themes that are present in Tarapata are present in the cases under discussion.

It should be noted that the comments in R v B represent a clear recognition that judicial directions are not a not a completely effective means of preventing jurors engaging in Internet research.[56] Examples of cases where juror research has taken place include M v R[57]  and R v Harris[58]  where juror research included terms like “burden of proof” and “reasonable doubt.”

In M v R the defendant was convicted in June of 2015 on charges of cultivating cannabis and possession of cannabis for supply. He had previous convictions which had been reported in the New Zealand Herald in 2005. As the result of a communication between a juror and a police prosecutor, there was a suggestion that there had been juror misconduct involving the use of the Internet. This was advanced as a ground of appeal. The Court concluded that there should be an inquiry into the allegation.

The Court considered the provisions of section 76 of the Evidence Act relating to jury deliberations, observing that the section pointed more towards the admissibility of information about jury deliberations rather than prohibiting an inquiry. The allegation in this case was that although the jurors were not satisfied of guilt on the basis of the evidence adduced they conducted their own enquiries and returned a guilty verdict. The result was that Counsel was appointed to conduct an inquiry that was of a specific scope and report back to the Court.

What was significant about this case was that it demonstrates that not only were jurors willing to conduct their own enquiries, but they were also prepared to do so to try and shore up the Crown case against the defendant. If the misconduct were of the nature alleged, not only was there a complete breach of the admonition by the judge to refrain from researching, but clear evidence of partiality and the apparent willingness of the jury to undertake a partisan role.

The case of R v Harris and others was an appeal following conviction on fraud offences.[59]  The trial was complex having been brought by the Serious Fraud Office. There were a number of grounds of appeal but the relevant one for the purposes of this discussion arose as a result of a a member of Court staff finding a printout from the Internet site http://www.answers.com containing definitions of the burden of proof and beyond reasonable doubt. These printouts were located between the conclusion of the defence evidence and final addresses and was in clear breach of the trial judge’s introductory remarks in which he specifically directed the jury not to undertake research on the matters arising during trial.

The printout was drawn to the Judge’s attention and he made reference to it in his summing up, pointing out that he was aware that there had been research despite his specific warning. The Judge pointed out in clear terms that the American approach to the matters researched differed from that of New Zealand and that the jury was to take instructions from him and from no other source.

The Court of Appeal observed that the research was in clear breach of the directions of the Judge but observed that the jury room was cleaned out on a daily basis and it was unlikely that the printout would have been available for an extended period of time. The Court noted the strength of the Judge’s direction and observed that juror research has shown that jurors generally follow judicial directions in summing up so the possibility of jurors applying the wrong test was remote.

Whilst the Court was concerned about the possibility of contamination of the jury it was of the view that the possibility was slight.

This case nevertheless demonstrates one of the difficulties about attempting to limit juror research. A take-down or non-publication order may dilute any possible prejudice to the defendant arising from the publication of previous convictions or prior offending. It is impossible to eliminate all possible information that might be the subject of an enquiry. In this case a strong judicial direction had a curative effect, at least as far as the Court of Appeal was concerned. But this remedy would be available only where the juror misconduct was discovered.

An example of the scope of juror research may be illustrated by the case of R v V.V. Reddy.[60]  That case involved an online enquiry by jurors about the process by which DNA matches were obtained. During the course of the trial the jury wanted to know how the accused’s DNA was in the possession of the Police and how he was identified as a suspect. Agreed facts were placed before the jury that stated that samples were kept on a National Database, but the process by which they were obtained was not disclosed. A member of Court staff noted that a juror was looking at information about DNA on his phone. The judge interviewed the jurors, two of whom indicated that they were not satisfied with the explanations given and had decided to make their own Internet-based enquiry. The Judge concluded that the problem could not be cured by direction and the trial was abandoned. Once again, that case was one where the prophylactic effect of take-down or non-publication orders would have been inadequate. However, the Judge chose not to impose any sanction upon the enquiring and unrepentant jurors whose breach was quite blatant.

These cases seem to confirm the overseas research that jurors are prepared to carry out their own Internet enquiries in the face of judicial direction and that the consequences of such enquiries can potentially prejudice the outcome of a trial or alternatively require that the trial be aborted.

The case of R v Skelton provides an example of risk management and the importance of judicial proactivity.[61] That was a case which involved issues surrounding the custody of a child who was abducted. The child care issues had been the subject of Family Court proceedings.

An application was made for stay or change of venue on the basis that details of the Family Court proceedings may be recalled by jurors. That was considered to be unlikely, but by the same token the Court considered that the Family Court judgments, which were publicly available on the Internet, should no longer be accessible. The Ministry of Justice was directed to remove the material from the Internet site. The Court recognised that it was impossible to prevent access to the web, but generally jurors would comply with directions not to carry out online research.

Thus the granting of a take-down order in respect of prejudicial webpages is an exercise in risk management and significantly reduces the risk of a compromise to the defendant’s fair trial right. Whilst not acting as a complete answer to juror Internet research it would be nevertheless all the more unlikely for a “googling juror” to access the prejudicial content.

VI.        Take Down Orders

Consideration will now move to the nature of takedown orders and then move to a discussion of the decisions in Lyttleton[62], Tarapata[63], Kahia[64] and Y v R[65].

A.   What are take down orders?

How does one deal with the quality of persistence of information – with a medium that allows for the continued storage and availability of recorded information. One approach is to make the information difficult to locate. The case of Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Mario Costeja González [66] which dealt with the so-called “right to be forgotten” in Europe required Google to de-index information so that certain results would not be returned in response to particular queries. Following the decision of the European Court in Google Spain Google put in place a process whereby it would consider requests to de-index information.

De-indexing however only makes the information difficult to locate; it does not remove the information entirely. The public notice advertisement which was the subject of Sr Costeja-Gonzales’ case in Google Spain is still available from the La Vanguardia website in Barcelona.

A take down order requires that a website administrator remove content from its servers or disables access to the content so that it cannot be recovered by a link to its URL. The removal of such content or disabling access to it is a relatively straightforward technological exercise. As will be discussed at a later point in this article, there are significant freedom of expression issues, especially where a take down order is sought against a news media website.

In some respects, take down orders and non-publication orders under s200 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 are associated. Non-publication orders usually refer to the non-publication of details of those appearing before the Court and, on occasion, details of the offence and therefore relate to contemporaneous restrictions on publication. A take down order relates to information that may already be in the public domain on an Internet website. In such a situation it may be difficult to make an effective retrospective order, although a takedown order could feasibly be paired with a non-publication order.

The New Zealand Law Commission has discussed the issue of non-publication of prejudicial material in its report on Contempt of Court.[67] Among its recommendations it suggests an association between non-publication orders and take down orders of prejudicial material. The Law Commission proposes a three step process. First, there should be a statutory prohibition upon the reporting of an arrested person’s previous convictions for the purpose of preserving the right to a fair trial.[68]

Secondly, there should be provision for an order postponing publication of other information if it appears necessary to avoid a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial. Such an order could be made at any time after arrest and before the trial has been completed, but it could not extend beyond the completion of proceedings.

Thirdly, and importantly for the present discussion, there should be provisions authorizing the court to make an order that an online content host take down or disable public access to any specific information covered by the statutory prohibition in any suppression order made under the proposals above.[69]

The Law Commission recommendations are reflective of the problems posed by the Digital Paradigm. They recognise the fact that the quality of persistence of information coupled with the ready availability of Internet based content of an historical nature can potentially be prejudicial to the fair trial rights of the accused. Whereas a contemporaneous publication could conceivably amount to a form of publication contempt, historical material may well have been published legitimately but, in light of changed circumstances, have taken on a prejudicial element. In this respect the proposals by the Law Commission are prophylactic in nature.

As far at the Courts were concerned the issue of take down orders had not come to any prominence until the case of Lyttleton v R[70] which I shall discuss in greater detail below. However, that case established that the Court had jurisdiction to make a take down order as part of its obligation to protect the fair trial rights of an accused person. Since that case there have been a number of instances where take down orders have been considered by the New Zealand Courts.

B.   Some New Zealand Take Down Cases

In the three or so years between Lyttleton[71] and Y v R[72], there have been a number of cases involving the removal of material from the Internet. These have not been widely publicised. They illustrate that the Courts are prepared to grapple with the problems posed by the availability of Internet based information. The issue of juror compliance with directions was considered by Ellis J in R v Lyttle.[73]

  1. R v Lyttle

Mr Lyttle was charged with murder in May 2011. His trial was due to commence late in 2017. In 2012, he was convicted of 5 charges of obtaining money by deception. There was an application by the Crown to have these convictions admitted as propensity evidence. The convictions were ruled inadmissible. They had little probative value and would have been prejudicial to Mr Lyttle.

When the convictions were entered there was publicity including an article published on the Stuff website. It was one of the first “hits” on a search using the string “David Lyttle Builder” on both Google and Bing.

The Crown sought an order that the article and links to it be taken down during the course of the trial. The application was supported by the defence and opposed by Fairfax.

Ellis J considered the decision of the Court of Appeal in Lyttelton and the observations regarding the remoteness of a juror locating potentially prejudicial articles on the Internet and the comment that there was an expectation that jurors would comply with directions not to conduct their own enquiries. However, Ellis J drew attention to the earlier case of R v B where William Young P and Robertson J suggested it “must be commonplace” for jurors to make internet inquiries such as googling the accused, despite judicial directions.[74]  They went on to say:

[79]   A specific direction to jurors not to “Google” the defendant may put the possibility of doing so into the mind of a juror who might not otherwise have thought of it.  There may be scope for debate as to whether it is best for a judge to square up to the detail of the prejudicial material or to deal with the topic with generalities.  The reality is that there is no simple and foolproof way for a trial judge to address the availability on the internet of prejudicial material about a defendant.

Ellis J also referred to the District Court case of R v Scott where the Judge ordered that articles relating to Mr Scott’s previous convictions for sexual offending be taken down during his trial on sexual violation charges. [75] The Court of Appeal commented favourably upon the take-down order saying that, together with standard directions, it would be safe to mitigate any potential risk.[76]

Ellis J then went on to consider recent research on Internet use by jurors. She observed that the Court of Appeal in Lyttelton relied on 1998 research by the Law Commission but had not noted that the Law Commission in 2014, in its Issues paper on Contempt in Modern New Zealand, expressed the view that the 1998 finding underrepresented the extent to which jurors use the Internet to find information during a trial because of the increased use of the Internet in the twenty-first century. Indeed, Ellis J observed – correctly in my view – that “there is simply no meaningful comparison to be drawn between internet use in 1998 and its ubiquity now.”[77]

In allowing the take-down order, Ellis J considered the following matters to be relevant:

  1. The article was over 4 years old and there was no contemporary public interest in it. In addition, the take-down was of limited duration and the value attached to freedom of expression was lower than in other cases. This contrasts with the suggestion in other cases that the historical nature of the material mitigates against a take-down.
  2. There was only one article which would be the subject of the order and again the freedom of expression was very limited. The practicalities of take-down were straightforward.
  3. The matters in the article had been ruled inadmissible and were prejudicial, thus the content had been the subject of evaluation.
  4. Notwithstanding that faith in the jury system was predicated on the fact that jurors would comply with judicial directions, “there is empirical evidence (which was not before the Courts in Lyttelton) that strongly suggests that that is not always the case in relation to internet searches.”[78]
  5. The unusual circumstances of the case and the way in which the defendant was implicated may pique jury interest and prompt what the Judge referred to as “defendant googling”.

 

Arguments against the order were that it could be presumed that jurors would comply with directions, although the Judge was of the view that this could not be absolute. Coverage of the trial would not link to the earlier article although that would not address the “googling juror” problem. She did pause at the argument that the removal of the article would not remove it from a Google search in that the snippet may still be present, but it was acknowledged by Fairfax’s counsel that removal of the article would make it difficult, even for a determined juror, to locate.

Accordingly, a take-down order was made.

Lyttle was decided on 4 October 2017. Tarapata was argued on 30 October 2017 and Moore J released his reasons for his decision on 10 December 2017. Counsel in Tarapata referred to Lyttle which was noted by Moore J.[79] However, he placed faith in the power of the judicial direction as a means of mitigating the risk that jurors may carry out their own enquiries.[80]

Other cases decided, however, assume that there is such a risk.

  1. R v Tranter

In R v Tranter,  decided on 4 November 2015 there was an application for an order that Fairfax Media, courtsofnewzealand.govt.nz, newzeelend.wordpress.com, odt.co.nz, and 3news.co.nz  were to remove any article from the internet that named the defendant, David Stanley Tranter, together with details of any conviction, sentence or court appearance involving him.[81] The order was to subsist until the disposition of Mr Tranter’s trial.

The application was dealt with under urgency and subsequently Fairfax applied to have the order cancelled. This was opposed by the defendant and the Crown.

This was a case where it appears that specific articles were not identified. Fairfax had used best endeavours to comply with the order. The articles complained of were historic and related to the defendant. The only details of any evaluation of content were that it was considered that the content should not appropriately be viewed by jurors or potential jurors.

Gendall J referred to Lyttelton which was relied upon by Fairfax, especially the comments about juror compliance with directions. On the other hand it was argued that if the material did remain online the case was more serious than Lyttelton and if the order was rescinded the fair trial rights of the defendant would be adversely affected.

The Judge agreed, which suggests again that there had been some evaluation of the content and it was observed that the material could be prejudicial although the decision does not say why or how.

Once the trial was over and the defendant had been found guilty the take-down order came to an end.

  1. R v Scott

R v Scott was a decision of the District Court on 28 June 2017. [82] The case involved a joint application by the Crown and the defence for a take-down order in respect of information relating to the defendant who was to undergo trial for sexual violation. It was proposed that material be taken down from Google as well for a period equivalent to the length of the trial.

It was observed that although the defendant had the benefit of name suppression up until trial, that would not assist him because his identity would be revealed to jurors who may use his name as the basis of an Internet search.

Fairfax Media opposed the application. It conceded that the District Court had the inherent power to regulate its process and to make such an order.

Judge Butler referred to the competing points of view on whether jurors would seek out their own information – Lyttelton v R on the one hand where it was held that the Court must proceed on the assumption that jurors will follow those directions and resist the temptation to make their own enquiries on the Internet;[83] and the other, the observation in R v B[84]

“Jury research has established that jurors often make their own inquiries despite judicial directions not to do so.  Internet inquiries, perhaps just in the form of “googling” the defendant, must be commonplace.  This means that publicity about a defendant can no longer be assumed to be of only transitory significance.”

A specific direction to jurors not to “google” the defendant may put the possibility of doing so into the mind of a juror who might not otherwise have thought of it.  There may be scope for debate as to whether it is best for a Judge to square up to the detail of the prejudicial material or to deal with the topic with generalities.  The reality is that there is no simple and foolproof way for a trial Judge to address the availability on the Internet of prejudicial material about the defendant.

Thus, Judges could not be confident that jurors would not obey instructions to refrain from making their own enquiries.

Fairfax suggested that the risk was not as great as it may seem.

  1. What if there was an appeal – what would happen to the short term order.
  2. Floodgates – that there would be an increase of such applications in jury trials.
  3. Take-down assumed that jurors would breach their oath.
  4. The order would not prevent a dedicated investigator seeking the information out.

The Court ordered that the order apply to Fairfax and to Google.

It should be noted that in Scott there does not appear to be any identification of the content by way of reference to URLs or other specific identifiers, nor does there appear to have been any evaluation of the content to determine whether or not it would be prejudicial. From a risk analysis perspective, this step is an important one. It can be inferred from the fact that the application was a joint one by Crown and defence that there was a recognition of the prejudicial nature of the content. Finally, there is no express discussion of the tension between the risk of prejudice to a fair trial and the freedom of expression and the Press. It seems to have been assumed that the fair trial interests of the defendant would be prejudiced to such a degree that a take-down order was justified.

  1. McMahon v Fairfax Media

The case of McMahon v Fairfax Media was unusual in that it centered upon a suppression order. [85] The accused was charged with burglary. He unsuccessfully sought name suppression in the District Court, but in the High Court Lang J ordered that details of the offending be suppressed. It was noted that as long as the details were suppressed there was no reason to believe that members of the public would have cause to access the Internet.

Subsequently, Fairfax published a report on the “Stuff” website. The report detailed the charges against Mr McMahon without naming him. An application was made for a take-down order in respect of the article. Courtney J noted that the purpose of the suppression order was to ensure that details of the offending remained suppressed. She was of the view that that there was a distinct risk that members of the public would realise what had happened and connect Mr McMahon with the offending reported on Stuff. A take-down order was made.

Interestingly enough, no comment was made about what appears to have been a breach of the suppression order. However, the primary focus of the case seems to be that of ensuring the integrity of the order. There was no expression of concern about possible juror enquiry, although that was a matter which concerned Lang J and an unstated concern that there could well be a downstream effect of connection of the unusual offending with the defendant.

Tranter, Lyttle  and Scott demonstrate a willingness on the part of some Courts to accept that there is a risk that jurors will conduct their own enquiries on the Internet and that prejudicial material should be taken down.

However, there have been four decisions, starting with Lyttleton which suggest something of a resistance to the making of take down orders and a preference for a reliance upon judicial directions to deal with the issue of the “Googling Juror”

  • Lyttelton, Tarapata, Y v R and Kahia
  1. The Decision in Lyttelton

The case of Lyttelton is an unusual one. [86] It is important because it is the first case in which appellate consideration was given to the issue of Internet take-down orders.

Mr Lyttelton had been convicted of a number of violence charges to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. There was media coverage of the case and articles about it were published in hard copy and online. Mr Lyttelton served his sentence and then appealed his convictions and a retrial was ordered.[87] An order was made prohibiting publication of any of the proceedings including the result in the news media, on the Internet or any other publicly available database until disposition of the retrial.

In March 2015, with support from the Crown, Mr Lyttelton applied to the High Court for orders that the historic online articles about his case be taken down, arguing that the availability of those articles would be prejudicial to his retrial. Orders were made by Lang J that the article in question be taken down from the various websites. The media organisations involved removed the material but sought recission of Lang J’s order and following a hearing Lang J revoked his earlier order.[88] The appeal by Mr Lyttelton was against that revocation.

Lang J made five findings.

First, the articles were historic in nature and did not automatically appear when an Internet user went to a media home page. It would be necessary to search the website or employ a search engine such as Google to locate the content.

Secondly, it was unlikely that members of the jury pool would have a residual recollection of the publicity accompanying Mr Lyttelton’s case in 2009 or 2010 and the suppression orders would ensure that the media would not report on the matter.

Thirdly, Mr Lyttelton’s identity would be unknown to jurors until they were empanelled. At that time they would receive directions from the Judge.

Fourthly, those directions would be firm and clear that the jury was only able to consider the evidence placed before the Court and that they were not to conduct their own research.

Finally, the risk of juror enquiry on the Internet would only arise after jury selection and by that time directions would be given. Lang J was of the view that the Court had to proceed on the assumption that jurors would follow those directions and resist the temptation to make their own enquiry on the Internet.

There was considerable discussion in the judgment about the nature of the case and the proper appeal track, along with the question of whether or not the Court had jurisdiction to make the orders. Once the nature of the appeal was settled the Court was able to turn to the substantive appeal.

For the media, submissions from Fairfax were considered. It was argued that there was no sufficient risk to Mr Lyttelton’s fair trial rights to warrant reinstatement of the order and that the matters addressed by Lang J were compelling. Further it was argued that research carried out by the Law Commission in 1999 found that jurors were rarely aware of pre-trial publicity, that they made an effort to focus on the evidence before the Court and there was no evidence that they were affected by media coverage. The media also gave undertakings that the material would be restored to its original URLs and that media coverage of the trial would not link to those articles.

The Court considered that there was no real prejudice demonstrated by Mr Lyttelton and that Lang J’s approach was persuasive. The case was not in the public consciousness and a juror would have to actively search to locate the material. This was considered to be a remote possibility and did not justify the “drastic measure of removing all coverage of his previous trial from their respective online platforms.”[89]

The Court observed that this was not a high profile trial like the retrials of Bain or Lundy where pretrial publicity was seen as inevitable and irremediable in terms of juror exposure to it. The absence of contemporary media interest was a factor the Court considered.

Importantly, the Court emphasised that it agreed with the observations of Lang J that if directions are given by a trial judge jurors can be expected to comply with them, and there was no suggestion that this was unlikely to occur.

  1. The Decision in Tarapata[90]

In 2015, Mr Tarapata was tried and convicted on two charges of murder.  His convictions were overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered.  The re-trial was set for late 2017.  The 2015 trial had been extensively reported in the media.  Those reports were available on the Internet.

Shortly before Mr Tarapata’s retrial, counsel applied for extensive suppression orders, including orders requiring various media organisations to forthwith remove from their websites references to Mr Tarapata’s first trial, including all content and electronic links.

The basis for the application was that if any members of the jury at the retrial undertook an internet search, they would discover details regarding Mr Tarapata’s first trial, which was considered highly prejudicial and would compromise his fair trial rights.

Justice Moore made without notice interim orders but directed that the various media organisations be served, reserving leave for them to apply to revoke the orders.  Following service upon the media organisation, they filed notices of opposition and affidavit evidence.  During the course of the trial, the Judge heard argument from all parties and determined that the interim orders that he had made should not be continued and they were rescinded.  He reserved his reasons which were delivered on 19 December 2017.

1.   The Factual Background

On 19 July 2014, Mr Tarapata entered a pawn shop on Great South Road in Takanini.   He attacked the two victims with a knife and stabbed them both to death.  He then fled the scene with his partner and finally drove to a Police Station in Huntly, where he gave himself up.

It appeared that his motive for killing the men was that he believed they were having a sexual relationship with his partner.  This belief was wholly unfounded and was driven by an intense paranoia and jealousy caused by psychosis and the defence of insanity was advanced.  It was accepted that Mr Tarapata was delusional and psychotic.

The Crown’s case at the first trial was that Mr Tarapata’s psychosis was caused by an external influence, mainly his chronic use of methamphetamine.  The defence position was that Mr Tarapata’s use of methamphetamine actually exacerbated an underlying organic psychiatric illness, known as schizophrenia, so that at the time of the killing, he was suffering from a disease of the mind.

As far as moral wrongfulness was considered, it was claimed by the defence that Mr Tarapata was driven by religious delusions and believed that God, as a higher moral authority, had directed him to kill the two men.  The Crown on the other hand argued that although Mr Tarapata was psychotic and delusional, he knew exactly what he was doing and intended the consequences.  He was simply a jealous person, even though he was psychotic and delusional.

The jury rejected Mr Tarapata’s defence and found him guilty and he appealed to the Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a retrial.  There were criticisms of the way in which the psychiatric evidence had been adduced and, in particular, the fact that much of the psychiatric opinion had not been based on primary evidence produced during the trial and tested by cross-examination.  There were criticisms made in relation to what the Court determined was the unfounded opinion of the Crown’s psychiatric expert on the role and influence of methamphetamine on the question of a disease of the mind.

At the second trial, Mr Tarapata was represented by new counsel.  There was considerable co-operation and consultation between the Crown and the defence.  In contrast to the first trial, the Crown agreed not to lead any evidence relating to Mr Tarapata’s methamphetamine use and the defence and the Crown had agreed that Mr Tarapata was suffering from a disease of the mind at the time of the killings.  Thus, the second trial proceeded on a much narrower basis.  The only issue was whether or not the defence had proved, on the balance of probabilities, that at the time of the killings, Mr Tarapata did not know that his acts were morally wrong, having regard to the commonly accepted standards of right or wrong.

The first trial, as has been noted, was extensively covered in the media and there was a significant amount of emphasis in the media upon the evidence relating to his methamphetamine use.  Approximately 10 days before the second trial, the defence counsel filed a detailed Memorandum drawing the Court’s attention to the body of the material available on the internet from Mr Tarapata’s first trial, including a transcript of the Judge’s full sentencing decision.

It was argued that it would be in the interests of justice for this material to be removed to reduce the risk of jury members undertaking internet searches on their own, discovering that there had, in fact, been a previous trial but that Mr Tarapata had been convicted.  Accordingly, take-down orders were sought.  On the eve of the trial, defence counsel filed a further Memorandum, observing that since the earlier discussions, further investigations had been undertaken and screen-shots were provided from what was described as a quick and simple search of the internet using Mr Tarapata’s name.

The next day the trial commenced and the jury was empanelled. The Judge made remarks to the jury, emphasising the importance of bringing an open mind to the task of judging and directed the jury in stronger terms than usual not to undertake any enquiries of their own.  Special mention was made of a prohibition upon undertaking internet and social media searches.  The Judge’s directions followed recommendations of the Law Commission in its discussion paper “Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court”.

The Judge also made interim orders, directing that the various media organisations, whose websites contained various references to Mr Tarapata’s 2015 trial, were to remove all content and electronic links relating to him and his trial.  The interim orders that were made are important because they set the scene for what was to follow and give important context to the approach of the media organisations and their opposition, as well as the way in which the Judge subsequently dealt with the matter.  The interim orders read as follows:

“I am prepared to make the interim orders sought on a without notice basis.  I direct that they are to continue until further order of the Court.  Accordingly, I direct as follows:

 

The listed media outlets below and any other media outlets served with this order forthwith remove from all websites within their direct and indirect control all references to the 2015 trial of the defendant, Zarn Tarapata, in this matter, including all content of electronic links to related material:

Television New Zealand

TV 3

Radio NZ

Maori Television

Fairfax Media

NZME

NZ Newswire

 

The operators of the search engines known as Google, Yahoo and Bing and any other operator of a search engine served with this order forthwith disable any and every link between a search term using the words “Zarn” and “Tarapata” (individually or in combination) and a website to the effect that users will not be directed to any websites that report any aspect of the defendant’s trial in 2015 in this matter, including subsequent sentencing; and

 

These orders will continue until the conclusion of the trial, or such other times the Court may direct.

 

If any party wishes to oppose the continuation of the orders, it is to file and serve a notice of opposition, setting in full the grounds of such opposition. That notice is to be filed and served within 48 hours of the making of these orders.

 

In the event of opposition, it will be necessary to convene a hearing and, if necessary, hear evidence.  I emphasise that the present interim orders are in order to preserve Mr Tarapata’s fair trial rights in the context of my assessment of the prejudicial material contained in the media reports I have been referred to.  Given the limited time within I have been obliged to deal with this matter, that assessment has not been as full or as considered as I might have wished.  It is possible that following any hearing my provisional view might change.

 

I direct that the orders be served electronically to the email addresses set out above”.[91]

 

Once the orders had been served, references to Mr Tarapata and his first trial were removed from the websites.  Google searches using Mr Tarapata’s name led to links which did not allow access to or the downloading of material.

However, in response to the opportunity to be heard, the news media organisations opposed the making of the orders. The Judge summarised the 13 objections by the news media, which fell into a number of generalised categories.[92]

First, the argument was advanced that the take-down orders were an unreasonable limitation on the media’s right to freedom of expression. It had not been demonstrated that there was specific prejudice or extreme circumstances from which the Court should infer prejudice to Mr Tarapata’s fair trial rights. No risk of prejudice had been demonstrated by the continuing availability of the historical articles relating to the first trial online.  Thus, the take-down orders were not necessary to ensure fair trial rights were preserved.

Secondly, the objection was raised that the jury could be expected to follow judicial directions.

Thirdly, the media also submitted that there was prejudice to the media in terms of compliance with the take-down orders, which involved extensive effort by the news media to identify likely material that should be taken down.  Furthermore, there was no guarantee that all of the material could be located, given the published articles they had copied, scraped or commented upon by third parties on other websites and on social media.

The Judge, in coming to his conclusion, first considered that the risk of prejudice to fair trial rights had to be a real one and that that risk would remain despite the strong direction given to the jury that they should not undertake any enquires of their own.

Furthermore, in assessing the risk of prejudice of fair trial rights, the Judge made reference to the fact that this was not a notorious case and that it was unlikely that jurors would bring any residual memory or knowledge of the earlier trial of Mr Tarapata to the first trial, thus meaning that their curiosity would not be piqued so that they would undertake an internet search.

On several occasions throughout his Judgment, the Judge emphasised the importance of residual memory or absence of public consciousness and used this to bolster his conclusion that it would be unlikely in that event that jurors would undertake an internet search.[93]  He considered that there was no real or substantial risk that a determined or irresponsible juror might undertake his or her own internet enquiries.

2.   Compliance Issues

The Judge’s orders were broadly expressed, as can be seen from the text above.  Essentially, what the order required was for media organisations to search their content management systems for key terms, such as Mr Tarapata’s name. This might not necessarily identify every piece of published content which might forward in the scope of the take-down order.

In addition, there was no control over what results Google or other search engines could display in response to a particular search and even when content was taken down, there may be snippets of information scraped from a particular article which might appear on the search results.

There were added compliance difficulties in terms of eliminating from the video content of news reports any specific content that related to Mr Tarapata’s trial.  Essentially, an entire news report would have to be taken down to eliminate access to a particular part of the video record – what the Judge referred to as deleting the historical record.

This led to the conclusion by the Judge that compliance with the orders was oppressive to the media organisations and that considerable resources were required to be re-directed from core business functions.

But the real problem, as far as this case was concerned, is articulated at paragraph [61] and following.

It was pointed out by Google New Zealand that the interim orders did not identify the content with sufficient specificity to enable a search engine provider, such as Google, to determine what content was required to be removed.  The search engine provider requires a full and complete URL in order to prevent the web pages of those URLs from being returned as search results.  Without URLs being specified, a search engine provider can only speculate as to which particular web pages may be covered by the orders.  Thus, search engine providers had difficulty in identifying specific content, as it was not part of their function to carry out a search for particular content and then determine whether or not the search engine would identify it.

In this commentator’s view, the absence of specific URLs that could identify content raise a number of issues:

(i)      As has been pointed out, it is difficult for search engine providers, such as Google, to de-index specific content without a URL.

(ii)     It is, perhaps, a tribute to the news media organisations that they were able to search their content management systems to locate potentially prejudicial material and take it down.

(iii)    However, the absence of specific items meant that it was not possible for the Court to carry out an evaluation of the material to determine whether or not it was sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a take-down order.  Without being able to consider the various items on a case by case basis, a proper evaluation and balancing of fair trial rights against freedom of expression and freedom of the press could not have been undertaken.

It is this writer’s view that this, in and of itself, could justify Moore J in rescinding the take-down orders.  However, as has been noted, there were other factors surrounding the outcome of the Tarapata decision.

  1. The Decision in Y v R

The case of Y v R[94] was an application for take-down orders in respect of 9 identified online articles published local news websites[95].

The applicant was charged with the murder of M in Northland in March 2016. His trial was due to commence in July 2018. Initially the take-down application was very wide, but, by the time it came on for hearing, it was refined to 11 identified articles. There was a further refinement during the hearing so that 9 articles were the subject of the application.

The argument on behalf of the applicant was that if jurors were to carry out an Internet search based on the name of the applicant, the address where the murder was alleged to have taken place or of some identified names, it would become clear that:

  1. The applicant was a member of a gang
  2. He had faced and still was to face other charges
  3. He was on the run from the Police for some time
  4. At that time he was considered armed and dangerous
  5. He was involved in another shooting where a person had died but in respect of which there was no causative link between the shooting and the death.

It was argued that, given the nature of the case, there was a real risk that a juror might become curious and seek out information about the applicant on the Internet and that risk existed irrespective of the direction that a Judge may make.

The media argued that the material was historic, implying that there was little currency in the material and that there was little public interest in the content. That meant that a juror would have to undertake a search for it and any risk that he or she might do so would be mitigated by appropriate directions by the trial judge. There were also freedom of expression issues raised by the case which the Court had to take into account.

Wylie J identified the tension between freedom of expression and fair trial rights that were raised by the take-down application which underpinned the fact that the inherent jurisdiction to make a take-down order should not be exercised lightly, but only where the risk to fair trial rights was a real one, rather than a remote possibility.[96] A real risk is one that is more than speculative in that there must be a likelihood of prejudice to the administration of justice.[97]

In a comprehensive decision which contained citations not only of New Zealand but also Australian authority, Wylie J assessed the issue of reality of risk under a number of heads. First, he observed that there was nothing remarkable about extensive pre-trial publicity. However, it was possible for any potential prejudice to be mitigated by the trial Judge. In some respects, this reflects the reality of partial obscurity.

Secondly, and associated with the first point, the Judge could direct jurors to take into account only the evidence that was heard in Court. This was an important consideration for Wylie J. There was a stated assumption that jurors would comply with directions and their legal obligations in considering whether there was a sufficiently real risk to warrant a take-down order. Similarly, the judge referred to Australian authority which holds that the court must be of the view that jurors may be inclined to seek access to material on the Internet, despite directions by the Judge.[98]

Thirdly, in determining whether there is a real risk of prejudice, the Court must consider the likelihood of material coming to the attention of a juror who wants to seek it out. Wylie J drew a distinction between a high profile case where there was relatively recent material with that which was less prominent in the public eye or where the material was historic. Wylie J referred to the decision of the Court of Appeal in Lyttelton v R.[99] In that case, the Court was of the view that there was an absence of real prejudice in that the articles in question were old and were not immediately available on the websites of the media organisations. It was noted that for a juror to search for them, a degree of proactivity would be required, using either the defendant’s name or that of the victims which the Court considered was a remote possibility. The Court considered that the case was not in the public consciousness and was unlikely to be the subject of significant pre-trial media coverage in a way that would make juror exposure inevitable.[100]

There were other matters which may be taken into account in determining the risk of prejudice, including the likelihood of innocent non-compliance, the oppressive nature of compliance and the alteration of the historical record, if it was unlikely that the material may not be restored to the Internet. On the other hand, commercial considerations would take second place to fair trial considerations.

In coming to his conclusion that the take-down order was not justified, Wylie J observed that the 9 identified items were historic in nature, having been published on the Internet in February, March and April of 2016. Historic articles, he concluded, were rarely searched although they could be found. Specific search terms were required such as the names of individuals, or addresses. If that information was not held or was unknown, it was unlikely that a person would be able to identify historic articles, even using specific searches.

Another significant factor was that the likelihood of a person carrying out a search before being selected as a juror was remote given that such a person, if summoned, would have no advance knowledge of the cases set for trial, nor details which might enable a search to be carried out. If there is to be a risk, it is once the jury is empaneled and Wylie J placed considerable store on the efficacy of careful and detailed directions. If pre-trial publicity was a concern, directions could be extensive including advice to jurors that carrying out independent enquiry would be a breach of court orders, could amount to contempt and render them liable to penalties. In addition, jurors could be directed to bring a breach by another juror to the attention of the trial judge. In the case before him, Wylie J concluded that there was no evidential basis for assuming that jurors would ignore such directions.[101]

Innocent non-compliance was not an issue in this case, given the way in which the articles had been refined and media representatives confirmed that the mechanics of take-down were not difficult. It was observed that there were difficulties with search engines and with those who may have republished potentially prejudicial material meaning that prejudicial material may remain on the Internet. In the same way that material was easy to take-down, it could easily be restored, thus meaning that the historical record would not be lost.

In the final analysis there was nothing which justified interfering with the freedom of expression by making a take-down order.

The approach in this case is similar to that in Tarapata. In Y, however, the content was identified and was evaluated. As it stood, the content was potentially prejudicial. Like Tarapata, there was a strong emphasis upon the efficacy of judicial directions and the associated matter that a casual enquiry by a juror was unlikely to uncover the material. Thus, there would have to be a degree of determination and a wilful flouting of a judicial direction to construct the necessary search strings that would locate the material.

D. The Decision in Kahia

Moore J, who decided Tarapata, also decided the takedown application in Police v Kahia.[102] In December 2014, Kahia was convicted of murder.  His conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal the following year.  The matter was set down for re-trial which commenced on 14 May 2018.

At the first trial, the identity of the person who caused the fatal injuries to the deceased was the key issue and would be the key issue at the re-trial.  At the first trial, the defence was that the defendant was not the killer, who may have been any one of a number of other people that he was with that evening.

When the matter came up for re-trial, it became clear that the defence would be argued with greater particularity, in that it would be argued that it was not Mr Kahia who inflicted the fatal wounds but another specified person.  Thus, Crown witnesses would be examined a good deal more comprehensively about the nature of their prior relationship and their relationship with previous co-defendants.

An application was made for take-down orders of publicity about the 2014 trial.  It was supported by an affidavit.  This listed the available on-line material relating to Mr Kahia’s first trial, convictions and sentence.  The deponent, Ms Opetaia, undertook a Google search of the words “Hendrix Kahia”.  She also searched other word combinations, including “Hendrix Kahia murder”, “Gang Related Taupo Murder” and “Wiremu Birch.”  As a result, 17 articles were located.  The URLs were provided.  Four of the articles related to the offending itself and the charges brought against Mr Kahia and his co-defendants.  A further four related to evidence given during the first trial.  Three related to Mr Kahia’s conviction.  One result was a YouTube interview with one of the witnesses.  The other articles reported upon the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment upon Mr Kahia.

Moore J observed that take-down orders had been considered by senior Courts on three previous occasions.[103]  He discussed the case of Lyttleton v R,[104] his own decision of R v Tarapata,[105] as well as the decision of Ellis J in R v Lyttle.[106]

Moore J considered that an analysis of the case law revealed the following principles:

  1. A Court must be careful to balance the right to freedom of expression with a right to a fair trial, conscious that the extent to which the interests will be engaged will depend upon the context of the application.
  2. Because the right to a fair trial is absolute, the context may require an order impinging upon the media’s right to freedom of expression by ordering the removal of new stories until the conclusion of the trial.
  3. The threshold question is whether there is a real risk that the applicant’s fair trial rights will be adversely affected if the material remain available. The test is whether there is a real or substantial risk a determined and irresponsible juror might undertake internet enquiries (citing Tarapata[107]).
  4. In resolving that question, the following factors will be relevant:

(a)     The level of notoriety, that is whether pre-trial publicity will be inevitable and simply irredeemable in terms of jury exposure to published material.

(b)     The likelihood that despite compliance with the take-down order material out of the control of the media will, nevertheless, remain available on line, which is in contravention of the order.

(c)     Whether interim suppression orders will have the practical effect of permanently removing material from the public historical record and the imposition on the media in terms of the cost of compliance.

Moore J noted the conflicting High Court authority on the question of whether in assessing the real risk a jury member might undertake their own enquiries.  He noted the Court should consider empirical evidence.

He referred to the decision of Ellis J in Lyttle,[108] noting that there was in fact empirical evidence that was not always the case that jurors would obey jury directions and that the presumption that they would do is not absolute.  However, by contrast in Tarapata, Moore J concluded it must be expected that a juror would adhere to very firm and tailored directions and that was a fundamental principle upon which the criminal justice process was founded.  Although it may be likely that disobedient jurors would undertake their own enquiries despite a judicial direction, there has to be judicial satisfaction that the real risk threshold had been crossed.

The Judge observed that pre-trial publicity necessarily carries a risk of prejudice to fair trial rights but the question was whether or not there was a real risk to those fair trial rights.

The Judge discussed the issue of whether jurors may be expected to adhere to judicial directions.  Even with the presence of adverse publicity and widespread media interest, there was authority which suggested that, notwithstanding this, jurors would focus on the evidence before them, as the material most immediately and recently to hand for their assessment and it was not to be assumed that jurors would ignore judicial directions to put to one side matters they may have heard outside the court.  Experience showed that jurors were responsive to judicial directions and tended to be more robust than defence counsel often assume. [109] Once Moore J had disposed of the issue of whether or not jurors might carry out their own enquiries in the face of strong judicial directions prohibiting such action, the outcome was quite predictable. If jurors were not going to “google”, what possible prejudice might there be?

There are some observations that should be made about Moore J’s approach in Kahia. Clearly the decision in Kahia reinforces Moore J’s approach in Tarapata.  There are some elements of nuance present in this decision that were not available in the earlier one, including a consideration of the conflicting approach of Ellis J in Lyttle. The Judge goes to some pains to distinguish that case primarily upon the nature of the information that was the subject of the take-down order and the amount of it.  Interestingly enough, he impliedly accepts that in Lyttle the real risk threshold had been crossed but it is suggested that a significant element was the prejudicial nature of the material.

What is of concern is the dismissive approach to the empirical evidence that is available.  Some (but not a great amount) of the research material available was presented to the Court.[110] The material submitted from the United States was in the nature of news articles than any careful empirical or academic studies, a number of which are readily available.  Nevertheless, it seems that Moore J has preferred to follow the established rubric articulated in Lyttleton, rather than shift his position on his reliance upon jury directions.

The question must be whether there may be a concern on the part of the Judge that to acknowledge that judicial directions may not be followed may  strike at the heart of the jury system itself.  If jurors are going to Google in breach of jury directions, are they more likely to ignore other directions about more fundamental aspects of the jury role?  Perhaps Moore J is concerned that by acknowledging the fallibility of judicial directions in this area that he perceives a potential erosion of the jury trial process.

There are a couple of other matters that arise from this decision.  One is that there seems to be a suggestion in the judgment that the take-down orders will remove prejudicial material.  This, of course, ignores the exponential dissemination quality of information on the internet.  What is sought to be achieved is a dilution of prejudice rather than a complete removal of it.  A court needs to understand how search engines work and the way in which removed material, coupled with the indexing in the page ranking system used by Google, will mean that other incidents of prejudicial material are less likely to appear in a Google search.

In addition it is suggested with respect that the reliance upon the “historical record” argument is a red herring.  A media content management system will easily be able to replace an article that has been taken-down and it is for that reason that it is suggested that take-down orders should be finite in duration to enable media organisations to replace the material once the order has expired.

  • The Themes Arising from the Cases

The four cases discussed have a number of common factors to them which can be expressed as general themes that underly the decisions.

 

  1. Juror Compliance with Judicial Directions

The first theme is of the issue of compliance by jurors with judicial directions not to engage in private research and especially online research. This theme seems to resemble an article of faith by judges and is seen as the prophylactic against jurors conducting their own research or carrying out their own enquiries.

 

There may, however, be a deeper concern. As I have observed, if a Judge is prepared to accept that jurors may ignore a prohibition against online research, perhaps implicitly there is a lack of confidence that jurors will follow other directions given during the course of the trial or, even more importantly, during the summing up.

 

The concern can be addressed in two ways. The first relates to modern reliance on technology discussed earlier in this article. The tendency for reliance upon devices is to obtain immediate access to information. Thus the Internet may be accessed to obtain details about a particular location from a maps application or Google Earth,  about one of the lawyers involved in the case, from a Google search or a review of Facebook, or about an accused from a Google search that might turn up an article containing details of previous convictions.

 

However, despite the concerns already expressed about the democratisation of information and the erosion of authority, it is suggested that judicial authority will add weight to directions on matters of law, such as the burden and standard of proof and the elements of an offence. In addition, visual aids such as question trails give added reinforcement to judicial directions on matters of law, thus demonstrating a difference in the quality of information that may be sought by way of a Google search.

 

  1. The Quality of Digital Information

The second theme relates to the nature of information on the Internet. Contemporaneity and notoriety of reporting on cases is contrasted with what is referred to as “historical material” which is unlikely to remain in the residual memory of a juror. This is akin to what has been referred to as the “fade factor” and involves consideration of pre-Internet assumptions about the nature of information, wrapped up in the terms “practical” and “partial obscurity”. These assumptions are challenged by the qualities of digital information in the Digital Paradigm, especially the availability of information by use of a search engine which is one of the most common navigation tools on the Internet.

 

The problem that must be recognised is that our assumptions about information and the validity of partial and practical obscurity must change and reflect the fact that we live in a new information paradigm where “historical” information is readily available and appears fresh and in the same format as when it was first made available. This is an issue that will increase as more and more information is digitised by default and “hard copy” becomes the exception.

 

  1. Freedom of Expression vs Fair Trial Rights

The third theme – a very important one – lies in the tension between freedom of expression and the freedom of the press to report Court proceedings with the right of an accused person to a fair trial. [111] In the cases for fair trial rights to trump freedom of expression, there must be a real possibility of prejudice as opposed to speculation. The “real possibility” argument has been addressed in the cases by reliance upon juror compliance with directions and the unlikelihood of jurors breaching those directions and locating the prejudicial information.

 

With the exception of Y v R, very little, if any, consideration has been given to the specific identification of potentially prejudicial content and an evaluation of that content for prejudice. Once the assumptions involving compliance with directions and the determination of a juror to locate content have been put to one side, there must be an identification of the individual items of content and an evaluation of that content for prejudice.

 

D. Media Compliance

 

A fourth theme involves the issue of compliance by media organisations with identifying content, taking it down and restoring it with associated considerations of possible interference with the historical record. Given the sophisticated content management systems employed by mainstream media organisations and the ease with which information may be located and relocated in the digital space, the “historical record” will receive but minimal interference given that a take down order will be of limited duration, after which the media organisation will be at liberty to restore the information once the order has expired. If there is a concern that might not happen and that a media organisation may overlook the opportunity to restore the historical record, it is suggested that this is an issue that reflects more on the information management systems of the media organisation than as a justification for refusing a take down order. Furthermore, the sanctity of the historical record cannot be seen as inviolate, given the developing concept of the right to be forgotten and the new provisions in the EU General Data Protection Regulation which replaces the former “right to be forgotten” with a right of erasure.[112]

 

  1. Searchability

 

The fifth theme involves dealing with the quality of searchability of content using a search engine and whether or not search engine platforms such as Google and Bing may comply with deindexing requests. It should be emphasised that in Tarapata what Google was required to do went beyond the de-indexing of identified content and required Google to evaluate content which it was reluctant to do. I shall address the issue of de-indexing below.

 

  1. Efficacy of Take Down Orders

The final theme which is addressed in the conclusion is that of the efficacy of take-down orders. Information persistence is a quality of Internet information together with that of exponential dissemination. There may well be cases where information about a case has spread beyond news media websites and may be located in unusual and little-known internet locations. If the information is available on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and similar platforms, it can be identified and consideration given to its removal. But it must be emphasised that in the context of the Internet, a take-down order is not going to eliminate prejudice. It is only going to dilute its prejudicial impact.

  1. Freedom of Expression

A take-down order against a media outlet impinges upon the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression enjoyed by news media organisations as guaranteed by s 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

The freedom of expression must be balanced against other affirmed rights and freedoms.[113] This applies not only to those contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, but in other areas, such as minimum standards of criminal procedure and fundamental principles of law, such as the protection and promotion of the free and impartial administration of justice.[114]

Parallels arise between take-down orders of prejudicial material pre-trial and elements of what the Law Commission refers to as “publication contempt”. Indeed in its recent report on the law of contempt, the Law Commission recommended a reform of the law to enable the “take-down” of online content, such as the previous convictions or publication of other material that may prejudice a fair trial.[115]

The tension between freedom of expression and fair trial rights arises frequently. The freedom of expression right protects open justice and the reporting of court proceedings. At the same time, the fair trial rights of a defendant have received recognition and may require an exception to the open justice principle.[116]

Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 confirms that a freedom such as that of free expression, ought to be restricted only so far as necessary to protect a countervailing right or interest, in that the freedoms contained in the Act are subject only to such reasonable limitations as are prescribed by law and are demonstrably justified in a democratic society.

Within the context of fair trial rights, the issue is whether the particular interference with the administration of justice is so serious as to override the freedom of expression.[117] Using the law relating to contempt as an example, especially that of “publication contempt,” the objective – protection of a fair trial or the administration of justice – must be sufficiently important to justify limiting the freedom of expression.[118] The limitation imposed must interfere with the freedom as little as possible.

In the case of Gisborne Herald Co Ltd v Solicitor General it was held that where there was a real risk that the publication of an article would prejudice a fair trial, freedom of speech rights and the importance of a fair trial and the proper administration of justice could be accommodated by deferring publication until after the trial[119].

The overriding importance of a fair trial in the context of the administration of justice was exemplified in the case of R v B (CA459/06)[120] where the tension arose in the shape of an application for a non-publication order and in respect of which Baragwanath J stated that “a fair trial trumps all”.[121]

It is suggested that the making of a take-down order amounts to a justified limitation of the news media’s rights and is supported by authority. Emphasis is placed upon the word “limitation”. A take-down order should be limited only to the duration of the trial and no longer – such time as is necessary to ensure protection of the defendant’s fair trial right and to ensure that a self-informing juror is unable to find the articles the subject of the order[122]. Once the trial is over, access to the material can be re-enabled.

Similarly limitations consistent with ensuring a level of free expression that aligns with the administration of justice and the right to a fair trial could be addressed by restricting the scope of the order solely to material that details the fact that a defendant has previous convictions or material from which that may be inferred and which would interfere with the presumption of innocence and associated fair trial rights.

The obligation on counsel to carefully consider and assess the prejudicial content is considerable. If evidence is going to be adduced, for example, of a defendant’s gang connection, it is unlikely that a take-down order would be made in respect of such information. This is because although publication of such information could be prejudicial, it would be raised within the context of the trial. On the other hand, if an earlier article included details of a defendant’s trial on a similar matter, including details of his previous convictions and criminal conduct, and there was to be no propensity application, such information could be prejudicial.

In some respects, the quality of information persistence that characterises Internet based information, together with that of searchability, places earlier publications of potentially prejudicial material into a grey area between the protection of a fair trial by means of a take-down order of prejudicial material and “publication contempt” which, in pre-Internet times was concerned more with inflammatory material that was published in mainstream media while a trial was pending or a case was sub judice.

X.          The Law Commission, Publication Contempt and Take Down Orders

The Law Commission in its recent discussion paper and report on Contempt was of the view that the current common law rules surrounding publication contempt do not contain any “bright line” directions and are unclear.[123] The scope of publication contempt is considered to be uncertain which may have a chilling effect on public discussion. On the other hand, an overly robust approach could be taken which could compromise fair trial rights.[124]

The clear principle emerging from the Law Commission report on contempt is the primacy of the importance of the fair trial as a justification for interfering with the freedom of expression.

One of the problems identified by the Law Commission was when those reporting events get it wrong and compromise fair trial rights. The problem is that it is difficult to remedy such a problem after the fact. If it becomes apparent that there is some form of publication prejudice, trials may have to be abandoned at considerable expense and inconvenience, not to mention speedy trial rights and an erosion of public confidence in the ability of the Courts to deliver justice. Further difficulties arise where a breach of fair trial rights is uncovered after conviction and sentence, revealing an unsafe conviction which must be set aside and a retrial ordered.

The Law Commission expressed some concern about the “real risk test”. It was suggested that there should be a separation between assessing whether there is a risk and determining whether or not that risk can be mitigated.

Finally, the Law Commission recognised the way in which information use and expectations have changed in the Internet age. Anyone may publish information or post images and video at any time. This strengthens the need for certainty and clarity in the law surrounding contempt.

The Law Commission proposals for prohibitions upon the publication of an arrested person’s previous conviction, for other information that should be suppressed to protect fair trial rights and an associated power to make take down orders[125] have been discussed above[126]:

 

It was recognised by the Law Commission that publication of previous convictions before trial would normally amount to common law contempt. It recognised that there was potential harm that arose from disclosure of this information and that the freedom of expression gave way to fair trial rights.[127] The temporary limitation of a suppression order recognises the importance of fair trial rights.[128] Although the proposal by the Law Commission is more restrictive than the common law, it clarifies the limitations that may be placed on pre-trial publicity and would deter publication of material that might jeopardise a fair trial.

 

The proposal for take-down orders against an online content host, requiring it to take-down specific material if it was necessary to protect fair trial rights would, if enacted, remove the take-down regime from Judge-made law to statute. A take-down order was recognised as a temporary measure for a particular purpose.

 

It was recognised that take-down orders would not be a perfect or complete solution, nor would they deter or prevent the determined internet user but the Law Commission concluded that they could go some way towards minimising the impact of an offending publication.

 

In summary therefore, publication pre-trial of previous convictions would be prohibited, although the prohibition should be kept under review. The postponement of publication of other material could be prohibited to avoid a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial and take-down orders could be made in respect of these two classes of information.

 

The essence of the Law Commission proposals recognises the importance of a fair trial and that displaces freedom of expression. However, the displacement is only within the context of the trial and the limitation of the freedom of expression is clearly circumscribed. Following conclusion of the trial, publication prohibition would no longer apply and material the subject of a take-down order could be restored.

 

  1. Identification and Evaluation of Content

It will be clear, especially from the discussion about freedom of expression issues, that an application for a take-down order should be made only in the most obvious cases of prejudice. This means that counsel should evaluate the content of the material carefully and be sure that the prejudice relates to the particular defendant and the issues that are before the Court. The precise identification of content does not appear from the decision of Moore J in Tarapata[129], although 9 specific articles were identified by Wylie J in Y v R[130]. In this writer’s view, one can only demonstrate a justified limitation on the freedom of expression by precisely identifying material and aligning it with the issues at trial to establish prejudice.

Once prejudicial content has been identified, the likelihood of retrieval will have to be demonstrated. The first step will be to develop search parameters and undertake careful searches for information based on those parameters. A record of the search parameters must be kept because the methodology of the process will have to be explained to the Court.

The record should include not only the search parameters but the date and time of the search. It would be advisable to take “screen dumps” of the search results to validate the results of searches. The results acquired by the searches may result in different rankings for the same material. A careful record of the rankings must be kept and the searches should be repeated over a period of days or even weeks to determine consistency of rankings and return. This exercise will identify possibly prejudicial material and establish a pattern of rankings that will provide an indication of the likelihood of retrieval using the various search parameters identified.

The search process and methodology, together with the results, should be recorded in an affidavit together with copies of the articles and their Universal Resource Locators (URL) and the search result screen dumps exhibited.

Alternatively, if the trial budget allows it, the services of a reputation management consultant could be obtained to carry out an extensive search and analysis of all potentially prejudicial material present on Internet platforms. Such an exercise might go well beyond mainstream media websites and include posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Because the substantive case is a criminal trial, any application that is made will be ancillary to the criminal proceedings. The reality is that although the principal parties will be the Crown and the Defendant, the online content hosts, be they news media websites or otherwise, will have to be served. Thus, in addition to an application for a take-down order, there should be an application for directions as to service of the take-down application upon the interested parties.

A comprehensive memorandum in support of the application clearly identifying the nature of the prejudice and the necessity for orders should be prepared and filed.

The order sought should only be as wide as necessary to dilute the prejudicial effect of the content. The maximum time frame for a take-down order would be for the duration of the trial and until the jury returned a verdict. Then access to the material could be restored. Thus, the order sought would be along the lines that the identified web-page content and associated URLs be removed from the website, or access thereto be disabled from the date of commencement of the trial until such time as the jury at the trial returns with a verdict.

  • Desirability of an Order and Meeting the Google Problem

It was clear from the decision in Tarapata that Google LLC, based in California, did not consider itself subject to the order that was made by Moore J. [131] In the view of this writer, part of the problem lay in the fact that the scope of the order was too wide, and went beyond the deindexing process that Google has put in place.

 

The difficulty with the order in Tarapata[132] was that Google was treated as a content provider, rather than as the provider of a means of locating content on the Internet. The roles may seem similar but in fact are substantially different. A mainstream media organisation such as the NZ Herald or Stuff are online content hosts. They have sophisticated content management systems which can be used to locate the content of a particular article. Google, on the other hand, scours the Internet for content and rather than preserve it (other than in a cache) indexes it and links to the particular source of the content. Other than a brief description or “snippet”, Google does not make the content available.

 

The primary source of reference for a Google search is a URL which enables a linking from the search result to the webpage where the content is located. The Google deindexing process means that the search results – the URL and hypertext link – do not appear in any searches for the content. Google removes those URLs from its search index.

 

Thus, in seeking a take-down order, the specific content should be identified by URL, not only for the purposes of prejudice evaluation, but also because it will be of assistance in a subsequent approach to Google.

 

Once the application is successful and an order is obtained the next step is to approach Google to deindex the content. This approach is necessary because a juror may conduct a search which returns a result and a Google snippet of the content, but trying to obtain the content by hyperlink would be unsuccessful. The prejudice is that the juror would be aware that at some time content of interest was available. Thus the ability to obtain such a result may be constrained by deindexing.

Following the “right to be forgotten” decision in Google Spain instituted a process whereby requests can be made to deindex content[133]. The process may be initiated at Google’s Legal Removal Requests page.[134] A copy of the Court Order for temporary removal of the content will have a persuasive effect upon Google’s decision to deindex. The process suggested would obviate the necessity for a deindexing application to be made which would be a complex, time consuming and expensive process involving, to start with, service upon Google in the United States.

 

  • The Future of Take-down Orders

The necessity for take-down orders will probably increase as Internet use continues and the availability of information online becomes an accepted way of informing oneself. The trend, at least in recent politics, which suggests that citizens are not simply prepared to accept the say so of an authoritarian figure means that jurors are more likely to go online to augment or verify the information that they hear in Court. Short of sequestering the jury, a restriction on the availability of prejudicial information would seem to be the only solution.

However, as has been suggested in this article, this is a remedy which should be used sparingly and only in the clearest cases. The Courts will be careful to scrutinise applications for take-down orders, mindful of the tension between the freedom of expression and fair trial rights. Nevertheless, it should be observed that although this article has directed attention primarily at mainstream media websites, the rise of the “citizen journalist”, the ready availability of Internet based publication platforms and their ease of use, and the development of private commentators on justice matters means that prejudicial material in these “new media” locations may need to be considered. One aspect of the matter that must govern whether or not a Court will interfere with this information is its ease of location utilising a search engine.

The final observation that should be made is that any prejudice that may be occasioned by the existence of online material may only be diluted and not totally eliminated by its removal and de-indexing. The solution of a take-down order may only mitigate or dilute prejudice, but it may nevertheless go part of the way towards ensuring a fair trial and addressing the problem of the Googling Juror.

[1] LLB (Auckland) MJur (Auckland) PhD (Auckland); Judge of the District Court (Acting Warrant); formerly Director, New Zealand Centre for ICT Law and Part-time lecturer in Law and Information Technology, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland. I acknowledge the assistance and inspiration provided by Justin Harder, Adam Holland and Katherine Maxwell together with Rosemary Tobin. I also acknowledge the assistance of Sarah Watt who offered a number of helpful suggestions on an earlier as well as the final draft. Sections of this article have appeared in another form in a discussion of injunctions and publication restraints in R Tobin and D Harvey Entertainment and Media Law in New Zealand (Thomson Reuters, Wellington, 2017) at p 89 et seq.

[2] David Harvey “The Googling Juror: The Fate of the Jury Trial in the Digital Paradigm” [2014] NZ L Rev 203.

[3] For a detailed discussion see David Harvey Collisions in the Digital Paradigm: Law and Rulemaking in the Internet Age (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2017) especially at Ch 2 p 16 et seq.

[4] Harvey above n 2 at p 226.

[5] Other terms to describe the nature of the order sought include “gagging order”, although the context of the granting of a prior restraint injunction to prevent publicity of defamatory, confidential or private information occupies a different space in the control of publication of information.

[6] Sam Hurley “Google thumbs its nose at New Zealand Courts” 23 May 2018 NZ Herald https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12056284 (last accessed 24 May 2018).

Sam Hurley “Considerable Concern at Google’s Unwillingness to follow Court Orders” 23 May 2018 NZ Herald https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12057169 (last accessed 24 May 2018).

[7] R v Bailey High Court, Auckland CRI 2007-085-007842, 23 April 2010 per Winkelmann J.

[8] Iti v R [2012] NZCA 492.

[9] Bailey, above n 7 see especially paragraphs [50] et seq.

[10] R v Reddy [2016] 3 NZLR 666 at [65].

[11] Reddy above n 10.

[12] The term “practical obscurity” was used in the case of US Department of Justice v Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 489 US 749 (1989).

[13] For a recent discussion of practical obscurity in the context of the availability of personal information in on-line court records see Jane Bailey and Jacquelyn Burkell “Revisiting the Open Court Principle in an Era of Online Publication: Questioning Presumptive Public Access to Parties’ and Witnesses’ Personal Information” (2017) FIMS Publication 159 p. 168-169 http://ir.ib.uwo.ca/fimspub/159 (last accessed 29 April 2017).

[14] Gisborne Herald v Solicitor-General [1995] 3 NZLR 563 at 567. For a discussion of the law relating to contempt of court and publication contempt, see Rosemary Tobin and David Harvey New Zealand Media and Entertainment Law (Thomson Reuters, Wellington, 2017) at Chapter 6. See also New Zealand Law Commission Reforming the Law of Contempt: A Modern Statute R140 (New Zealand Law Commission, Wellington, 2017) http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/our-projects/contempt-court?id=1417 (last accessed 27 August 2017).

[15] Viktor Meyer-Schonberger Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010).

[16] For a full discussion of the qualities of digital information see David Harvey Collisions above n 3 at Ch 2 and especially p 22 et seq. In developing a taxonomy of qualities each is broadly classified as environmental, technical and user associated.

[17] Harvey above n 3 at p37.

[18] Steps to limit or restrict the operation of search engines, as was the case in the “right to be forgotten” case of Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Mario Costeja González (2014) ECJ Case-131/12 http://curia.europa.eu/juris/liste.jsf?num=C-131/12&language=EN have a significant and detrimental effect upon the overall utility of the Internet.

[19] Ronald N Kostoff “Expanded Information Retrieval Using Full Text Searching” (2010) 36 J Information Science 104.

[20] Filippo Menczer “Complementing Search Engines with Online Web Mining Agents” (2003) 35 Decision Support Systems 195; Bailey and Burkell, above n 13 at p. 170 http://ir.ib.uwo.ca/fimspub/159 (last accessed 29 April 2017).

[21] See Y v R [2018] NZHC 489.

[22] A Gibson, and others “The Internet in New Zealand 2013” (Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication, AUT University Auckland 2013) https://icdc.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/73445/wipnz2013final.pdf (last accessed 10 August 2017).

[23] C Crothers, and others “The Internet in New Zealand 2015” (Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication, AUT University Auckland 2016) p. i. https://workresearch.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/71328/WIPNZ-Report-060515.pdf (last accessed 10 August 2017).

[24] A Techatassanasoontorn and others Karimikia “World  Internet Project New Zealand – Internet in New Zealand in 2017 (New Zealand Work Research Institute, Auckland 2018) especially at 5 https://workresearch.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/174915/Internet-in-NZWIP-2017.pdf (last accessed 7 September 2018) – see also InternetNZ The State of the Internet 2017 (InternetNZ, Wellington 2018) https://internetnz.nz/sites/default/files/SOTI%20FINAL.pdf at p. 4 – 8. (last accessed 7 September 2018)

[25] Cheryl Thomas “Are Juries Fair?” (Ministry of Justice Research Series 1/10, February 2010) https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/research-and-analysis/moj-research/are-juries-fair-research.pdf (last accessed 10 August 2010)

[26] Above n. 25 at p. viii.

[27] For other examples of Internet misuse by jurors see New Zealand Law Commission Reforming the Law of Contempt: A Modern Statute above n. 14 at para. 4.14 p. 73.

[28] Cheryl Thomas “Avoiding the Perfect Storm of Juror Contempt [2013] Crim LR 483

[29] Thaddeus Hoffmeister “Google, Gadgets and Guilt: Juror Misconduct in the Digital Age” (2012) 83 U Colo L Rev 409.

[30] Hoffmeister above n 29 at 414 – 415 (footnotes omitted). For other examples of juror misconduct see above n 2.

[31] Hon Antoinette Plogstedt “E-Jurors: A View from the Bench” (2013) 61 Cleveland St L Rev 597 at Part V.

[32] Robbie Manhas “Responding to Independent Juror Research in the Internet Age: Positive Rules, Negative Rules and Outside Mechanisms” (2014) 115 Michigan L R 809.

[33] Nicole L Waters and Paula Hannaford-Agor “Jurors 24/7: The Impact of New Media of Jurors, Public Perceptions of the Jury System and the American Criminal Justice System.” National Center for State Courts Center for Jury Studies http://www.ncsc-jurystudies.org/What-We-Do/~/media/Microsites/Files/CJS/What%20We%20Do/Jurors_%2024-7_REV011512.ashx (last accessed 8 September 2018).

[34] Paula Hannaford-Agor, David B Rottman and Nicole L Waters “Juror and Jury Use of New Media: A Baseline Exploration” (National Centre for State Courts, Williamsburg, 2012) http://www.ncsc-jurystudies.org/~/media/Microsites/Files/CJS/New%20Media%20Study/NCSC-Harvard-005-Juror-and-Jury-Use-of-New-Media-Final.ashx

[35] Above n 34 at p 8.

[36] Harvey above n 2 at 208 – 209.

[37] For examples see Gareth S Lacy: Untangling the Web: How Court should Respond to Juries using the Internet for Research” (2011) 1 Reynolds Court and Media Law Journal 169 at 173-176. http://issuu.com/rnccm/docs/reynolds_courts_and_media_law_journal_vol_1_issue_/43?mode=embed&viewMode=magazine. (last accessed 8 September 2018). See also the examples cited in Harvey above n 2 footnotes 26 – 38.

[38] Hon Amy J St. Eve and Michael Zuckerman “Ensuring an Impartial Jury in the Age of Social Media” (2012) 11 Duke L & Tech Rev 1; Hon Amy J St Eve, Hon Charles P Burns and Michael Zuckerman “More from the #Jury Box: The Latest on Juries and Social; Media” (2014) 12 Duke L & Tech Rev 64.

[39] Hannaford-Agor, Rottman and Waters  above n 34.

[40] Viktor Meyer-Schonberger above n 15.

[41] For example see David R Johnson and David Post “Law and Borders – The Rise of Law in Cyberspace” (1996) 48 Stanford LR 1367;

Jack Goldsmith “Against Cyberanarchy” (1998) Univ Chicago LR 1199;

Judge Frank H Easterbrook “Cyberspace and the Law of the Horse” (1996) Univ Chicago Legal Forum 207;

Laurence Lessig Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (Basic Books, New York 1999);

John Perry Barlow “A Cyberspace Independence Declaration” available at https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence (Last accessed 6 September 2018);

A.M. Froomkin “The Internet as a Source of Regulatory Arbitrage” in B Kahin & C. Nesson (eds) Borders in Cyberspace (MIT Press, Boston, 1997);

Henry Perrit “The Internet as a Threat to Sovereignty? Thoughts on the Internet’s Role in Strengthening National and Global Governance” (1998) 5 Ind J Global Legal Stud 423. For critical comment see J Goldsmith “The Internet and the Abiding Significance of Territorial Sovereignty (1998) 5 Ind J Global Legal Stud 472;

Molly Land “Towards an International Law of the Internet” (2013) 54 Harvard Int LJ;

Lawrence B Solum “Models of Internet Governance” in Lee A Bygrave and Jon Bing (eds) Internet Governance: Infrastructure and Institutions (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2009) at  48.

[42] For a discussion of the quality of delinearisation of information see David Harvey Collisions above note 3 at chapter 2.

[43] John Suler “The Online Disinhibition Effect” (2004) 7 Jnl of Cyberpsychology and Behaviour 321.

[44] Above n 43 at 321.

[45] Above n 43 at  321.

[46] Above n 43 at 322.

[47] Above n 43 at 322.

[48] Cited in Suler above n 43 at 323. In some respects this lends weight to the perception that different rules apply online.

[49] Above n 43 at 324.

[50] Above n 43 at 324. For further discussion, see below under the heading “Internet Democratisation and the Erosion of Authority”

[51] Above n 43 at 324.

[52] This phenomenon is not restricted to Internet based research. Despite “practical obscurity” issues, jurors have visited the scene of a crime (R v Gillespie CA 227/88, 7 February 1989), conducted experiments to work out how long it takes for a car engine to cool down (R v Taka [1992] 2 NZLR 129 (CA)). or how much heroin could be concealed in shoes (R v Sangraksa CA 503/96, 3 July 1997) and enquired of chemists about the availability and price of ephedrine. (R v Bates [1985] 1 NZLR 326 (CA)). None of these cases resulted in a prosecution for juror contempt.

[53] R v Harris CA 121/06, 27 September 2006

[54] R v Tarapata [2017] NZHC 3209

[55] Police v Kahia [2018] NZHC 1023

[56] R v B (CA 459/06) [2008] NZCA 130; [2009] 1 NZLR 293 at [78] – [79].

“Jury research has established that jurors often make their own inquiries despite judicial directions not to do so.  Internet inquiries, perhaps just in the form of “googling” the defendant, must be commonplace.  This means that publicity about a defendant can no longer be assumed to be of only transitory significance.”

“The reality is that there is no simple and foolproof way for a trial judge to address the availability on the internet of prejudicial material about the defendant.” [79]

[57] M v R [2016] NZCA 37.

[58] R v Harris above n 53.

[59] R v Harris above n. 53.

[60] R v V.V. Reddy [2016] NZDC 10437.

[61] R v Skelton HC Hamilton CRI-2006-019-006530 9 July 2008

[62] [2015] NZCA 279; [2016] 2 NZLR 21; [2015] 1 PRNZ 1.

[63] R v Tarapata above n. 54

[64] Police v Kahia above n. 55

[65] Y v R above n. 21

[66] Above n. 18.

[67] New Zealand Law Commission above n 14.

[68] There should be a requirement that the pre-trial or trial court to keep the prohibition under review and authorise the court to lift, extend or vary the prohibition as necessary in any particular case. The prohibition should apply from the time a person is arrested and only where the person is arrested for an offence for which he or she is liable to be tried by a jury (a category 3 or 4 offence).

[69] New Zealand Law Commission above n 14 at p.7.

[70] Lyttleton v R above n. 62.

[71] Above n. 62

[72] Above n. 21

[73] R v Lyttle [2017] NZHC 2426.

[74] R v B (CA 459/06) above n 56 at [78]. For further on R v B see below in the discussion about New Zealand cases of juror misconduct.

[75] R v Scott [2017] NZDC 13939.

[76] Scott v R [2017] NZCA 357 at [9] and [15].

[77] R v Lyttle above n 73 at [17].

[78] R v Lyttle above n 73 at [19](d).

[79] Tarapata above n 54 at [40].

[80] Tarapata above n 54 at [46].

[81] R v Tranter [2015] NZHC 2727.

[82] R v Scott above n 75.

[83] Lyttelton v R above n 62.

[84] R v B above n 56.

[85] McMahon v Fairfax Media [2017] NZHC 1812.

[86] Above n. 62

[87] Lyttelton v R above n 62.

[88] R v Lyttelton [2015] NZHC 763 (HC).

[89] Lyttelton v R above n 62 at para [64].

[90] Above n 54

[91] Tarapata above n 54 at para [24].

[92] Tarapata above n 54 at para [26].

[93] Above n 54 at paras [44] and [48]

[94] Y v R above n. 21

[95] Y v R above n. 21.

[96] Y v R, above n 21 at paras [27] – [28]; Gisborne Herald Co Ltd. v Solicitor-General above n. 74 at 567.

[97] Solicitor-General v W & H Specialist Publications Ltd [2003] 3 NZLR 12 (HC) at [19].

[98] Fairfax Digital Australia & New Zealand Pty Ltd v Ibrahim [2012] NSWCCA 125 at [77] and [100].

[99] Lyttelton v R, above n 62.

[100] Lyttelton v R, above n 62 at [64] – [65].

[101] Y v R, above n 21 at [43].

[102] Police v Kahia above n. 55.

[103] There have in fact been others – see R v Tranter above n. 81; McMahon v Fairfax Media above n. 85 and Y v R above n. 11. There is also the District Court case of R v Scott above n. 75.

[104] Above n. 62.

[105] Above n. 54.

[106] Above n. 73.

[107] Above n 54. The decision of Wylie J in Y v R above n. 21 articulates this test.  The Court must be satisfied that a real risk exists, despite a direction to the jury not to undertake enquiries of their own.

[108] R v Lyttle above n 73.

[109] See R v Rickards HC Auckland CRI-2005-063-1122, 28 November 2005

[110] For details of the material that was available as at 2014 see Harvey above n 2.

[111] I shall discuss the important issue of freedom of expression below.

[112] General Data Protection Regulation, Article 17.

[113] Solicitor-General v Radio New Zealand Ltd [1994] 1 NZLR 48 (HC) at 59, and see comments in R v Chignall & Walker [1990-1992] 1 NZBORR 179.

[114] Solicitor-General v Radio New Zealand Ltd, above n 113; Duff v Communicado Ltd [1996] 2 NZLR 89 (HC).

[115] New Zealand Law Commission Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court: A Modern Statute above n 14 p 36 – 51. For a summary of the proposals for take-down orders see p 7 R 3.

[116] Siemer v Solicitor-General [2013] NZSC 68; [2013] 3 NZLR 441 at [158] – [159]; L v R [2015] NZCA 279; [2016] 2 NZLR 21 at [24].

[117] Duff v Communicado Ltd above n 114 at 100.

[118] Solicitor- General v Radio New Zealand Ltd above n 114.

[119] Gisborne Herald Co Ltd v Solicitor General above n 14 at 575.

[120] R v B above n 56.

[121] R v B above n 56 at [2 ].

[122] A similar approach was adopted in Gisborne Herald Co Ltd v Solicitor General above n 14.

[123] NZ Law Commission above n 14.

[124] NZ Law Commission above n 14 pp. 46 – 47.

[125] Above n 14 p. 48 para 2.55

[126] See the discussion above under the heading of VI Take Down Orders.

[127] Above n 14 p. 48 para 2.58

[128] Siemer v Solicitor-General above n 116.

[129] Tarapata above n 54.

[130] Y v R Above n 21.

[131] Tarapata above n 54.

[132] Tarapata above n 54.

[133] Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Mario Costeja González  above n.66.

[134] https://support.google.com/legal/answer/3110420?visit_id=1-636293565525935582-2797058458&rd=1 (last accessed 3 May 2017).

Paperless Lawyers, Paperless Courts

A temptation for lawyers is to use technology to mirror paper-based practices. Technology merely means that the screen becomes the functional equivalent of paper and underlying behaviours relating to information do not change. What should make the utilisation of technology different is that underlying the functional equivalent of a paper based file are all the tools and advantages that digital technologies can bring such as indexing searching on the fly annotating and so on.

Andrew Downie, a lawyer in Victoria, Australia, in February of 2014, blogged on the creation of an electronic brief – ahandy “how to” guide focusing particularly upon methods of converting documents and organising them using a computer system.

But electronic case files are not the exclusive preserve of counsel. In New Zealand there are several practice notes on the utilisation of electronic bundles of documents in court.  The Senior Courts Civil Electronic Document Protocol addresses the use of electronic documents in the Higher Courts in New Zealand. The Electronic Document Practice Note 2017 is intended to encourage and facilitate the use of electronic documents for civil cases in the Court of Appeal. The 2016 Practice Note “The Use of Electronic and Common Bundles and Electronic Casebooks in the High Court” sets out guidance about when an order should be made for a common bundle and/or casebook to be filed electronically in the High Court and the default directions that apply. It is to be read and interpreted consistently with the Senior Courts Civil Electronic Protocol.

The concept of functional equivalence is to the fore and it seems to me that one of the purposes of the practice note and the move towards electronic bundles is to save space and paper. This is consistent with the imitative approach adopted in the Electronic Courts and Tribunals Act 2016 (NZ) about which I have blogged here.

What the practice notes do is provide an electronic platform for the assembly of bundles of documents but by doing so it also enables counsel to utilise technology to enhance case presentation and argument.  None of this of course is specified in the practice notes which are designed to encourage and facilitate the use of electronic bundles the various Courts.  The fact of the matter is, however, that by virtue of the advantages bought by the technology, counsel may be creative in the way in which the electronic bundle is utilised.  One of the requirements of the electronic bundle is that all documents be scanned into OCR format.  One would think that it would be unnecessary to have such a requirement, and that rendering pdf documents searchable would almost go without saying but regrettably it needs to be emphasised.  This effectively means that the information in the document may be subject to search and manipulation in a way that would not be possible in mere image format.

The practice notes make it clear that electronic bundles will not be used in every case.  They will only be used in document intensive cases where the common bundle would be likely to exceed a certain number of pages.

In “building” in electronic bundle documents must be contained in electronic folders equivalent to the physical volumes of hard copy bundles and within those folders each separate document must be a multipage pdf document.  Each folder must be named with an appropriate description and if there is more than one volume of a particular electronic bundle the folder for that type of bundle will include subfolders for each volume.  The rules also provide for electronic bundles in document intensive criminal cases.

One of the difficulties in using electronic bundles effectively lies in the fact that the majority of advocates have been bought up in the paper based environment and find it uncomfortable or difficult to make the shift into the digital paradigm with the changes in thinking that such requires.  The concept of functional equivalence gets in the way.  One uses technology merely to mirror what one would normally do with paper rather than utilise the technology to its fullest capacity.  Often software packages will themselves create difficulties.  Some software packages make it almost impossible to move from page to page without entering a code or a key.  Other software packages allow for the utilisation of barcodes whereby documents could be selected and projected using a barcode scanner but the simple fact of the matter is that counsel don’t utilise that aspect of the technology which would save considerable time and effort in moving through document intensive cases.

The various electronic document protocols effectively replace the lever arch paper folder with a USB stick or other form of storage medium. Lawyers and judges maintain an informational distance as a result. Each participant has to locate the “document” the subject of the discussion on his or her own device. A centrally located document bundle to which every participant has access and which can be displayed in Court would expedite matters. Such a tool is available in the form of Caselines which is effectively a digital court platform.

Caselines does not require software or infrastructure. It is a cloud based solution. To connect to a Caselines bundle for a trial or hearing all that is needed is a wireless connection at the Court.

Caselines bundles may be created by the parties or by the Court. Participants in a case have access to the bundle with varying levels of credentials. There are a number of different types of functionality including the ability to make notes, mark up and, importantly, to allow counsel who is referring to a document, image, video or other piece of digital material to make that available to all the participants in the case simultaneously. This means that everyone is on the same page, literally. Caselines is now used throughout the Crown Courts in England and Wales for criminal trials. Digital is the default position. Paper is no longer used

The Digital Paradigm allows lawyers to devise their own means of employing electronic technologies in the practice of law and the Courts judges in the management and presentation of cases.  What will be interesting to see is how courts and judges will respond.

But to make that leap it is necessary to examine some fundamental premises and reasons for why it is that we conduct cases in the way that we do. I have written elsewhere that the practice of law is really an exercise in information exchange, be it by way of receiving instructions from the client, processing those, seeking an information flow from research and communicating the results of that to the client by way of advice, or by way of a case in court where information flows come from witnesses whose information is assessed for relevance and reliability and which in turn inform the decision-maker’s decision which is them communicated to the parties and often to a wider audience by means of digital publication systems or by reporting in the law reports.

In court the information flows were oral exchanges. Indeed, written pleadings were not a part of court procedure until the reign of Edward IV, and most of the cases noted in the Year Books dealt with the technicalities of pleading rather than reports of decisions on substantive points of law. The first reports that revolutionised the way in which cases were recorded were those of Edmund Plowden, first printed in 1571. But the way that cases were presented in court was largely an oral process with witnesses orally stating what they saw or did and the lawyers making their points by oral rather than written argument. Or at least that was the case in the Common Law courts. Prerogative courts such as Star Chamber and the Courts of Chancery used the written record more extensively, albeit a handwritten one.

(For a full description of Star Chamber procedures see Thomas G. Barnes “Due Process and Slow Process in the Late Elizabethan – Early Stuart Star Chamber” (1962) 6 American Jnl of Legal History 221)

But despite the apparent written procedures adopted by Star Chamber and the Chancery Courts, much of the information exchange remained an oral..

The oral nature of information exchange in court over the centuries requires the physical presence of the “players” in the one place – the Courtroom. Indeed it has not been until comparatively recently – and by that I mean since I was admitted to the Bar in 1970 – that judges have countenanced and encouraged the provision of arguments in writing. These may range from the massive briefs that characterise written argument in the United States to the much smaller outline style  “skeleton arguments” in England. Indeed in some appellate jurisdictions – again predominantly in the United States – oral argument is time limited, demonstrating a declining emphasis upon oral argument in favour of documentary material. Yet despite the brevity of oral argument, physical presence is still required.

Another Form of “Presence”

Technology is changing this and there is a declining emphasis on actual physical presence following upon the introduction in New Zealand of the Courts Remote Participation Act 2010 which allows for “presence” of a participant by way of audio-visual link.(AVL) In the majority of cases in the District Court the participant “attending” by way of AVL will be a  defendant who is in custody. I haven’t yet come across the case where counsel has sought to be present by way of AVL and perhaps the custodial remand focus of the technology deployed in New Zealand Courts is responsible for that, although there is nothing in the legislation which excludes the use of Skype or Facetime. I imagine that all that is required for a lawyer and a Judge to break the ice.

The issue of physical presence is one part of the expanded use of technology in case presentation. At the moment document management technology is used in document intensive cases where scanned copies of documents are assembled and presented on screens by means of software tools. I interpolate to express wry amusement that documents are scanned into these programmes rather than using software tools which allow “document” assembly of digital documents in native file format, but perhaps that is yet to come. That is fine as far as it goes.

What about expanding the scope of the hearing so that by using “presence” technology such as AVL – or perhaps, in the future, holography –  counsel may run the case remotely. Where there is a need for text based information to be presented (what we call “documents”, retaining our paper based language despite attempts by legislators to include any information however recorded as fulfilling the definition of a “document” but why retain the use of a word which conceptually is associated with hard copy media?) that can be communicated to the court by electronic means. Witnesses can be present by AVL links. The range of information that is communicable or admissible to inform the Court’s decision could include multimedia, 3D imaging, maps or satellite shots from Google Earth or Street View. All the clumsy time consuming methods currently employed for evidence presentation could be significantly more efficient without compromising information flows or the ability of fact finders or law deciders to reach a conclusion.

Our “presence based” focus has its roots in rituals which, with modern communications technologies, can no longer be justified.

These ideas may seem to be radical – perhaps revolutionary – but the reality of the fact is that we are and will continue to be for some time in the midst of an information technology driven by continuous disruptive change. It is incumbent upon lawyers, judges and those involved in the information exchange process that underlies the activities of all lawyers to maximise and deploy these new technologies.