Why Grace Millane's murderer won't be named until 2021

Cyan Turan, Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Photo credit: Rex

From Cosmopolitan

The killer of British backpacker Grace Millane was today sentenced to life imprisonment after having been found guilty of her murder last year by a New Zealand jury who took just five hours to reach their verdict.

But despite the murderer's guilt, the media have been banned from naming him for another two years, and won't be able to reveal the identity of the man until 2021.

Jurors in November dismissed the 28-year-old's defence that Grace died in a 'sex game gone wrong' and instead chose to convict him for strangling the 21-year-old to death and burying her body in a suitcase in woodland just outside Auckland. On February 21 in New Zealand, Justice Moore sentenced him to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years

So why does the killer remain unnamed? In the UK, the press are permitted to name criminal suspects under investigation, unless they are minors or a court specifically forbids it.

New Zealand, however, has strict name suppression laws, which date back to the 1920s. These laws were originally intended to protect first-time young offenders to spare them from public shame so they could go on to get to jobs after they had fulfilled their punishment.

Photo credit: REX/Shutterstock - Rex

The law hasn't evolved since, which means that we and other outlets are unable to name Grace's murderer - and pretty much any defendant is entitled to apply for anonymity. But why does he get to stay anonymous for two years? It's widely thought that the suppression of a defendant's identity usually lasts for two years in case any other related legal cases need to be investigated (which would also benefit from anonymity) or if the defendant wanted to appeal the verdict.

More recently, there’s been a change in favour of transparency and open justice, but in high profile cases such as this one, New Zealand criminal courts still prefer anonymity for defendants to ensure they get a fair trial.

That said, some media outlets have breached the rules and named the then suspect, now convicted killer. Their actions prompted criticism from the court presiding over Grace's case.

It was thought that the judge in today's sentencing may choose to lift the order of anonymity, but it appears that was not the case. As he sentenced the 28-year-old defendant, Justice Moore told him, "I accept that you had a volatile upbringing, and that may well have influenced the person you are today," but added that he could find "no factors" that would affect the killer's culpability.

Photo credit: Rex

"You were a stranger, she trusted you," the judge told the convicted murderer. "You are a large and powerful man, she was diminutive. You were in a position of total physical dominance."

The judge added that only two people will ever know what really happened in the killer's apartment, and "one of them is dead".

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