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Copeland: Open letter to ‘Every Child Counts’

Gordon Copeland Press Release

Wednesday, 7th March 2007

Open letter to ‘Every Child Counts’ Coalition (Barnardos, Plunket, UNICEF, Save the Children) re: Sue Bradford’s Bill

I refer to your press release headed “Parents will not be persecuted for smacking” dated 26 July 2006.

At that time, as you know, the total repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act was being considered by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

You will also be aware that the Select Committee decided against the repeal of section 59 and instead, adopted the retention of the section but with changed wording. As a result, the Bill now before the House will classify as an assault the following actions by parents:

 A smack with the hand, even if it is trivial in nature
 The use of any implement such as a wooden spoon, ruler, stick or similar against a child
 The leading of a child, using physical force, to their bedroom for ‘time-out’ for the purpose of correction
 The physical removal of a child by a parent from the table to a ‘naughty-mat’ for the purpose of correction
All of this is clearly set out in the Report of the Law Commission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee dated 8 November 2006 (see in particular clauses 7, 10, and 12). It is also confirmed in the opinion of Peter McKenzie QC dated 2 March 2007.

The heading of your press release suggests that parents will not be prosecuted for assault if they smack and, obviously, at the time the press release was issued, no sane person had expected that physical force used for the purpose of transporting a child for ‘time-out’ or to a ‘naughty-mat’ would constitute an assault. Accordingly, the Bill now before Parliament is dramatically different from what was previously contemplated by the simple repeal of section 59.

I note that you say your organisation “would be outraged if Police and CYFS did change their current behaviour” (to prosecute trivial offences) and therefore you sought “assurances that this will not change if section 59 is repealed”. However, any change in the criminal law of New Zealand must automatically lead to a change in Police behaviour and you will see that that is clearly set out in Peter McKenzie QC’s Report. Simply stated, if section 59 is changed, Police behaviour must change in response to that.

This was made clear by the Hon. Phil Goff in Parliament last Thursday where he confirmed that the Police are obliged to investigate all alleged assaults which are reported to them. Such investigations must of course be undertaken so that the Police can make a decision as to whether or not to prosecute the parents involved. The same logic applies to CYFS. They are under enormous pressure from the New Zealand public to investigate every complaint received without exception. Again, until an investigation is carried out, they are in no position to make a judgement as to an appropriate response.

It is clear, therefore, that the assurances you seek (see “we want assurances”) can not be given by either the Police of CYFS.

You will be aware that the alternative wording suggested by the Law Commission has been taken up by MP Chester Borrows who will move it as an amendment during the Committee stage of the Bill.

This removes three of the categories of assault, from the list set out above, from the current Bill. A smack with the hand which is trivial will not be an assault. Leading or carrying a child to a ‘naughty-mat’ will not be an assault. Leading of carrying a child to their room for ‘time-out’ will not be an assault.

As a result of course neither the Police nor CYFS will receive complaints about those actions, or be obliged to investigate them.

It seems to me that that is the assurance which both your organisation and the parents of New Zealand seek.

I greatly respect your organisation and know that you will carefully consider supporting the Chester Borrows amendment, in these greatly changed circumstances.

With all good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Gordon Copeland

Press Release dated 26 July 2006

  • Smacking – Every Child Counts
  • ENDS

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