In an historic decision, TVNZ today won the right to broadcast footage of a confession to police by Noel Clement Rogers; footage that jurors were prevented from seeing during Rogers’ trial for the murder of Katherine Sheffield.
The Supreme Court this morning ruled in favour of TVNZ, ending a two-year court battle to screen an investigation by TV ONE’s Sunday programme. The investigation will screen on Sunday this weekend (Sunday 18 November, 7.30pm on TV ONE).
TVNZ Journalists Mike Valintine – now editor of Close Up – and Hunter Wells – now editor of Sunday – spent five years investigating Katherine Sheffield’s murder, after Borrie Lloyd, the man originally convicted of Katherine’s murder, was acquitted and released from prison in 2002.
Their investigation included a confession in which Rogers returned to the scene of Katherine Sheffield’s murder with police and described in detail the events surrounding her death. The confession was recorded on police video, but the tape was ruled inadmissible as evidence in Rogers’ trial, being obtained in breach of Mr Rogers’ right to have legal counsel and to be silent.
When Rogers was found not guilty, his lawyer gained an injunction in the High Court that prevented the Sunday programme from being broadcast, on the basis that Rogers’ privacy rights superseded the principles of open justice.
TVNZ took the case to the Court of Appeal and won the right to screen the programme. Rogers then appealed to the Supreme Court, putting the broadcast on hold for over a year. In today’s decision, New Zealand’s highest court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal.
TVNZ Head of News and Current Affairs Anthony Flannery described the decision as an important endorsement of the public’s right to know.
“New Zealanders have a legitimate interest in and right to know all information surrounding Katherine Sheffield’s tragic death and the process from investigation to trial,” he said.
“Any desire to protect the privacy interests of an acquitted person should not outweigh legitimate debate. Full, informed debate cannot take place without the public seeing the video.
“It is immensely satisfying to Hunter, Mike and everyone who has worked on this investigation over the past five years that this story can finally be told.”
Supreme Court Justice John McGrath in today’s judgement said:
“In the end, in the circumstances of this difficult case, I have reached the conclusion, when balancing the conflicting interests, that the side of open justice carries the greatest weight. Preservation of public confidence in the legal system is directly relevant, because of the circumstances and outcome of the trials of the two accused persons. There is real risk of damage to public faith in the criminal justice system if the circumstances that led the Court of Appeal to refuse to admit the evidence are not fully transparent. It is a less than satisfactory response to reason that the end is achieved because the Courts’ own descriptions of the events that are depicted in the videotape are full and complete. Open justice strongly supports allowing the media access to primary sources of relevant information rather than having to receive it filtered according to what courts see as relevant. On the other side of the scales, Mr Rogers’ rights have been breached, but also vindicated during the criminal justice process. At this stage they have much less weight.”