The Law Commission was asked by the Minister for Courts to undertake a first principles review of the statutory rules governing the media’s reporting of individual suicide deaths. In particular, it was asked to consider whether the current legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the benefits of freedom of speech and the public health goals of reducing suicide deaths.
Terms of reference
The Law Commission will undertake a first principles review of the legislative provisions restricting the reporting of suicide as set out in sections 71-73 of the Coroners Act 2006. The review will examine whether the current restrictions on making public details of self-inflicted deaths strike an appropriate balance between the public health goal of reducing the likelihood of imitative ("copycat") suicide and the principle of freedom of expression.
In particular, the review will consider whether sections 71-73 should be amended (or removed).
If it is proposed that these sections be retained in some form, the review will consider:
- The information about a self-inflicted death that is appropriate to make public, and at what stage of the coronial investigation;
- The definitions to support the proposals including, if relevant, "detrimental to public safety", "particulars" and any particular relating to the "manner" in which a death occurred;
- Whether the same provisions should apply for different forms of media eg, media organisations, bloggers, and social media; and
- The rules for reporting suspected suicides outside New Zealand.
If any amendments are proposed to the existing legislative provisions, suggested drafting should be provided.
Suicide Reporting (NZLC R131, 2014)
The Commission's Report, Suicide Reporting (NZLC R131, 2014) recommends that sections 71 to 73 of the Coroners Act 2006 that restrict the reporting of suicide be repealed and replaced by new provisions. Those provisions should only prohibit the reporting of the method of suicide and the fact that a death is a suicide. A person should be able to apply to the Chief Coroner for an exemption from those prohibitions. It also recommends that the Coroners Act requires the Minister of Health to prepare, in consultation with media and mental health experts, a new set of standards for reporting suicide, and to implement an ongoing programme to disseminate, promote, support and evaluate the implementation of those standards.
The Government will consider the recommendations and respond to them in due course.
Government responded to the Commission's report Suicide Reporting (NZLC R131) on 19 May 2014.
Most of the report’s legislative reforms were implemented through changes incorporated into the Coroners Act 2006.