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Govt fast-tracks moves to further protect children

Hon Simon Power
Minister of Justice

12 April 2011 Media Statement

Govt fast-tracks moves to further protect children

The Government is putting proposals to further protect children from assault, neglect and ill-treatment on a faster track than was originally intended, Justice Minister Simon Power said today.

Cabinet yesterday signed off the proposals which will strengthen the Crimes Act via the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), which will be introduced to Parliament today.

The bill will:

Create a new offence of failure to protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault as a consequence of the unlawful act by third party or failure of third party to perform a legal duty. Failure to take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult, knowing they were at risk, would result in charges with a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

A parent or person over 18 may be found liable if he or she is:
o A member of the same household as the victim.
o Does not live in the same household but is so closely connected with it that they are regarded as a member of it.
o A staff member of a hospital, institution, or residence where the victim lives.

Double the maximum penalty for cruelty to a child from five years to 10 years' imprisonment. This offence, which deals with ill-treatment and neglect, has also been extended to include vulnerable adults (this relates to those who are in care because of their age, detention, sickness, or mental impairment).

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Extend a legal duty on parents and caregivers who currently have a duty to provide the necessaries of life to take reasonable steps to also protect a child or vulnerable adult from injury. Breach of this duty will be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.

Mr Power said the proposals closed worrying gaps in the law.

“The new offence of failing to protect a child or vulnerable adult will hold accountable household members who fail to notify authorities of abuse.

“It will no longer be an excuse to say you were not involved in the abuse. Standing by and doing nothing makes you involved, and this bill makes that clear.

"Such people must and will be held accountable for their lack of action where our most vulnerable are involved."

Mr Power said he had decided he didn’t want to wait for the work to be completed on its original track.

“Children are among our most vulnerable members of society and they deserve special protection.

“I had intended to address offending against children as part of a much wider reform of Part 8 of the Crimes Act, which deals with offending against the person, following a review by the Law Commission.

"But I decided to lift it out of the Part 8 project because of the time it was taking to deal with other aspects of the work, and the Cabinet agreed."

The Government's proposals implement recommendations by the Law Commission.

The bill will also:

Amend the offence of sexual grooming
The offence of sexual grooming of young people in the Crimes Act does not currently support prosecution in situations where the sexual grooming has been discovered through covert police investigations. The effect of the amendment will be to allow a person to be prosecuted with the offence of sexual grooming in circumstances where the person believes they are sexually grooming a person under 16 years old and takes some action to meet the young person, when in fact they are grooming a constable posing as a young person. This belief-based offence is similar to comparable offences in New South Wales and Queensland.

Amend the maximum penalty for possession of an offensive weapon
As part of the Government’s package to tackle the emerging knife crime problem the maximum penalty for possession of an offensive weapon will be increased from two years to three years' imprisonment. This brings the penalty in line with the penalty for possession of burglary instruments. The Government proposes to retain the current legislative requirement that a sentence of imprisonment must be imposed for second convictions within two years for possession of an offensive weapon. The Cabinet paper on knife crime can be found here.

Clarify the scope of the ‘claim of right’ defence
The Solicitor-General recommended that the Government review the ‘claim of right’ defence after serious questions were raised about it being used in the Waihopai 3 sabotage case. The amendment will limit the defence to circumstances where the defendants believe they have a personal right to the property concerned. The amendment is consistent with the purpose of the ‘claim of right’ defence at common law and is similar to the approach taken by some overseas jurisdictions. The Ministry of Justice’s advice on the claim of right reform options, and the Cabinet paper, is here.

The Cabinet paper and a table of penalty levels can be viewed here.


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