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Wider debate on section 59 changes called for

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Justice

14 June 2005

Wider debate on section 59 changes called for

Justice Minister Phil Goff says that parliamentary discussion on the physical disciplining of children should examine the option of amending, and not simply repealing, section 59 of the Crimes Act.

Mr Goff says that parents and the wider public should be encouraged to express their views to Parliament on the issue.

"The Labour caucus discussed the issue today and agreed that there was benefit in the issues surrounding section 59 being referred to a select committee for further discussion and debate," Mr Goff said.

"The view, however, was that all options should be examined, including amendment rather than repeal of section 59.

"No one in caucus believed that it was desirable to haul parents who smack, but not abuse, their children before the Court.

"But there was also general concern that section 59 could be successfully used as a defence in cases where the vast majority of New Zealanders regarded the parental action as excessive.

"While some countries such as Sweden and Germany have moved to end any physical disciplining of children, others such as England and Wales, and the state of New South Wales, have amended legislation to more closely define and clarify what forms of discipline were reasonable and acceptable.

"Ministry of Justice and other surveys have shown that 70 to 80 per cent of the public agree that parents should be allowed by law to smack a child. However the surveys also show that the public is adamant that this should only occur within strict limits.

"The use of objects, for example, to hit a child, and smacking them in the head and neck areas drew an overwhelmingly negative public response. Seventy-five per cent believed that only a smack that left no mark was acceptable.

"Yet in some jury trials severe discipline well outside these standards has resulted in acquittal under section 59.

"Public attitudes are changing and it is important that the law should reflect these changes and not lag behind them.

"It is important that Parliament invites full public input into its deliberations on this Bill and a select committee is an appropriate pace for this to happen," Mr Goff said.


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