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Police Re-Assurance For Parents

Police Re-Assurance For Parents

"Congratulations to the Police for providing vital information in the current debate about section 59 of the Crimes Act," said Marie Russell, spokesperson for EPOCH New Zealand, which has released a letter from the Police about the implications of repealing s.59.

"This is significant information and EPOCH has sent the letter to the Parliamentary Select Committee considering the Bill to repeal s.59. Now we are making it public so that all concerned New Zealanders can be re-assured," she continued.

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 provides a legal defence if parents are prosecuted for assaulting their child. The defence is that they were using "reasonable" force for the purposes of correction.

During the debate about whether or not to repeal s.59, some New Zealanders have expressed a fear that decent, loving parents would be criminalised for minor physical punishment of their children, if s.59 were repealed. That fear was based on an assumption that parents who smack their child would be reported to the Police and that every report would result in a prosecution.

"This question about criminalisation of parents has become a major factor in the public debate on the issue, so we wrote to the Police asking about their likely response to complaints about parents, and what protection against prosecution parents would have if they use minor physical punishment," said Marie Russell. "We are greatly reassured by the response," she said.

The Police reply states: "As is the case with all assault investigations, in investigating a complaint of assault on a child, Police would consider the amount of force used in the circumstances... "

In their reply the Police provided relevant extracts from the Police Manual of Best Practice and the Solicitor-General's Prosecution Guidelines for Crown Solicitors. These list the factors that Police take into account when deciding whether to prosecute. There are two key factors - * Evidential sufficiency (is there "admissible and reliable evidence that an offence has been committed by an identifiable person"?) * The public interest (does the public interest require the prosecution to proceed?)

The Guidelines also list other factors that may arise when the Police decide whether or not the public interest requires a prosecution. These include: * The seriousness or triviality of the alleged offence. * Mitigating or aggravating circumstances. * The degree of culpability of the alleged offender. * Public opinion. * The availability of any proper alternatives to prosecution. * Whether any resulting conviction would be unduly harsh and oppressive. * The attitude of the victim of the alleged offence to a prosecution. * Expense.

"Opponents of repeal have raised the fear of parents being prosecuted as if it was an automatic process that would result in thousands of good parents ending up with criminal records. This has never been a realistic view, and now we have it on the very best of authority that parents need have no fear of repeal."

"Let's remember this Bill is about children not about adults. Perhaps now we can re-focus the discussion on the right of children to the same protection in law that adults and animals have," concluded Ms Russell.

A copy of the Police letter (six pages) is attached.


(1) EPOCH New Zealand Inc. (End Physical Punishment of Children) is a charitable trust set up in 1997 with two aims: to influence public attitudes and educate New Zealanders against using physical punishment; and to seek legal change to support this, including repeal of s.59 of the Crimes Act 1961.

(2) Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961: 59. Domestic discipline- (1) Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances. (2) The reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact. (3) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section justifies the use of force towards a child in contravention of section 139A of the Education Act 1989.

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