Law Commission asked to review suicide reporting rules

  • Chester Borrows

The Law Commission will review the rules governing the media’s reporting of suicide, Courts Minister Chester Borrows said today.

The Coroners Act 2006 currently restricts the information that can be made public about a self-inflicted death without the authorisation of the coroner.  Concern that some aspects of the restrictions are unclear was raised during the recent review of the Coroners Act.

“Media reporting of suicides is a delicate subject, and there are strong views as to the benefits and risks it can carry,” says Mr Borrows.

“The Law Commission is well placed to engage both sides of the debate, consider whether the legal restrictions need clarification, and whether or not relaxing restrictions would be a positive step to helping prevent suicides.”

Associate Health Minister Todd McClay welcomed the involvement of the Law Commission in clarifying the rules set out in the Coroners Act.

“This is a particularly sensitive area and how the media responds potentially has significant influence and impact,” says Mr McClay.

“It is very important that all media understand and adhere to a responsible reporting ethic.”

Mr McClay also noted that the Law Commission’s work continued good work undertaken by previous Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, “Mr Dunne undertook a significant amount of work on this issue, working hard to bring media inside the tent and encouraging development of their own set of media reporting guidelines. The Law Commission’s work will provide an independent and comprehensive response on this issue.”

Mr Borrows also highlighted the role of social media in discussing suicides, and the difficulties in enforcing restrictions on social media, as a problem raised during the Coroners Act review.  This will be included in the Law Commission’s review.

“The Law Commission has recent expertise in the difficult area of the regulation of social media so it is good timing to ask it to consider whether restrictions are appropriate on discussing individual suicide deaths through social media,” says Mr Borrows.

The Minister responsible for the Law Commission, Judith Collins, has agreed that this project can be included in the Law Commission’s work.  The Law Commission’s report is due by the end of March 2014.