Supreme Court refuses to restrain publication of sexual abuse allegations against former priest

A media company intended to broadcast a programme regarding the abuse that occurred in 1977

Supreme Court refuses to restrain publication of sexual abuse allegations against former priest

The Supreme Court dismissed an application by a former priest seeking leave to appeal a ruling, which allowed a media organisation to proceed with broadcasting allegations of sexual abuse.

The dispute in Dew v Discovery NZ Limited [2024] NZSC 21 involved a media organisation's intention to broadcast a programme on TV3 accusing a former priest of sexual abuse in 1977 at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Upper Hutt. The allegations were brought forward by siblings who were seven and eight years old at the time of the alleged abuse.

The former priest, who sought to restrain the programme’s publication, contended that the abuse did not occur, presenting independent evidence to support his claim. He pursued the restraint on three grounds, including statutory jurisdiction to suppress publication related to criminal proceedings, inherent jurisdiction to prevent interference with the administration of justice, and prior restraint of defamatory publication.

Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal had previously declined to restrain publication on these grounds, leading to the former priest's appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal highlighted two primary issues: the absence of general or public importance in the applicant’s grounds and the standard for prior restraint on defamatory publication.

The Supreme Court noted that no charges would be laid against the former priest, as the police investigation had concluded without finding sufficient evidence for prosecution. The court also reiterated that a court would only restrain the publication of defamatory material for clear and compelling reasons, finding no justification, in this case, to deviate from the existing rule.

Furthermore, the media organisation assured the Court that it would plead the truth or that the defence of responsible communication on public interest protected the publication. The Supreme Court concluded that these defences warranted trial testing and that it was inappropriate to grant leave for appeal.

The application for leave to appeal was thus dismissed, with the Supreme Court ordering the former priest to pay costs of $2,500 to the respondent.

 

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