ACT Proposes Bill to Protect Volunteers
Sunday 30 Jun 2002
ACT MP Stephen Franks is proposing a Bill to protect volunteers working with children, who risk legal liability under the current law.
"Volunteers who work with children are now exposed to unlimited liability and criminal prosecution if something goes wrong. I've been concerned about this for some time but my concerns have come to a head after the recent annual conference of the New Zealand Parent Teachers Association.
"Concerns were raised about the liability of volunteers such as parents who are marshalls at a school cross country event, or triathlon, supervising swimmers at a school picnic, escorting students on a tramp, or even driving children to school sports.
"Many accidents look avoidable in hindsight. Good intentions may be no defence. Even the costs of a successful defence may be more than an average family could afford.
"Prudent volunteers will withdraw their help. They are not paid to take these risks. And our community cannot afford to do all the things that we have traditionally done for ourselves, and for each other, if they can only be done by paid experts.
"The problem has been made worse by the Sentencing Act passed in May this year. While it generally reduces penalties for crime, it makes it compulsory for a judge to order full compensation for a victim of a crime, from the offender, unless the offender has no money. This may increase victim pressures to prosecute even technical breaches of safety laws and regulations.
"The judge does not have a discretion to reduce the compensation just because the `offender' meant no harm.
"ACT New Zealand is committed to cutting red tape and protecting the New Zealand traditions of community self help, and volunteering.
"I will produce a Bill for the next Parliament - the Education Volunteers Protection Bill - to protect authorised volunteers who have acted in good faith if they have applied at least the care they would take with their own children," Mr Franks said.