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Minister Misled Parliament over Bradford Bill

The Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

P.O. Box 13-683 JohnsonvillePress Release

2 April 2007

Minister Phil Goff Misled Parliament over Bradford's Bill

On Thursday the 29th of March the Hon. Phil Goff misled the House during Question Time when he answered a question put to him by Taito Phillip Field, Independent MP for Mangere. Mr Field asked the Acting Minister of Police whether he could assure "good parents" that they would not be prosecuted for smacking their children for corrective purposes, should Sue Bradford's bill ever become law. Mr Goff misled the House on two counts in his answer (see Hansard full transcript below).

Goff replied in the affirmative: "the police guidelines, which follow the Crown Law Office guidelines, make it ABSOLUTELY clear that MINOR forms of offending will NOT be prosecuted". [Emphasis added].

However, once Bradford's bill becomes law, the police cannot treat smacking for correction involving a child as "MINOR forms of offending". Every formal complaint involving a child will have to be investigated promptly and current police guidelines dealing with "family violence" make this very clear as police spokespersons and leading lawyers have repeatedly pointed out. Whether they proceed to prosecute will be left to police discretion, but this does not provide the assurance the public are seeking.

If there is no justification in law under Bradford's bill for parents to use any form of "reasonable force" for correction, then a child's claim (possibly exaggerated) as to how hard he was 'hit' or the extent of pain caused, and/or a by-standers perception of the these matters; will be the critical factor(s) that may lead an officer to charge the parent. If an officer knows there is no chance of a s. 59 defence being used by the parent, and no chance of any defence under summary law being relied on, (both defences are removed in Bradford's bill), and he is somehow convinced that the case is not a "MINOR" one, then he will find it much easier to take a risk and press charges than under current law. What's there to lose, he night ask? Why shouldn't I prosecute? His attitude may very well be: let the Courts decide not the police. Under current law, with s. 59 in place, there is a safeguard for "good parents" to rely on, should a false allegation lead them into Court proceedings.

Mr Goff went on to mislead the House by citing a Court of Appeal case to the House - R v. Hende (1996) [1NZLR 153]. - as providing him with "quite strong confidence" that he could assure parents that police will not prosecute parents for light smacking for correction once Bradford's bill becomes law. He claimed that this case set a precedent: establishing that all judges will have to take the same view as the Court of Appeal Judge - Eichelbaum CJ: that "a light smack did not merit the stigma of a conviction or a fine". For Goff to claim this, he would have to mislead parliament, which he did. The case he cited involved a creche worker, NOT a parent or a person in the place of a parent. She appealed her conviction for assault against a child, for which she had been fined $250, and appealed her convictions for ill-treating and stupefying a child (both judgements issued by the District Court). She was not a parent or a person in the place of a parent for which s. 59 of the Crimes Act (1961) applied. Furthermore, the two light smacks she applied to the child's bottom (a "technical assault" as the Judge noted) were not applied for the purpose of "correction". They were applied in order to try and control a young child throwing a "tantrum" when she went "beserk". Eichelbaum CJ concluded:

"... there was no justification for treating the incident as involving anything more than a pat on the bottom. Although technically an assault, it did not merit the stigma of a conviction and the fine imposed. Accordingly we set aside the conviction, and instead direct (pursuant to s. 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 1985) that the appellant be discharged without conviction."

The case Mr Goff cites shows how police have prosecuted and will continue to prosecute adults who have formal complaints lodged with the police against them for administering a "pat on the bottom" to a child when no justification exists in law for the use of such "reasonable force" (s. 59 did not apply as a defence for the creche worker, nor will it apply to parents under Bradford's bill). Once s. 59 goes, should Bradford's bill become law, parents and those in the place of parents will find themselves as vulnerable to prosecution for assault as any creche worker, for merely carrying out parental duties involving the application of "reasonable force" for the purpose of correction. The role of parenting is demeaned to the level of child minder/creche worker (no disrespect intended towards creche workers!). Parents are not just child minders. The parent-child relationship is a sacred one with special and unique features. The parent for example is responsible for the moral upbringing of the child.

The fact that the appellant endured a seven day trial and two hearings before the Court of Appeal, for what the Court of Appeal effectively said were only trifling matters, and matters that were three or four years old, shows sadly how police can get it so very, very wrong.

Mr Goff misled the House to claim the police guidelines and a single Court of Appeal judgement can provide "good parents" will "quite strong confidence" that they will not be prosecuted by the police for lightly smacking their children for the purpose of correction, should Bradford's flawed anti-family bill become law.


Appendix: From the Hansard Record (Uncorrected Transcript)

Crimes Act-Child Abuse Charges

http://www.hansard.parliament.govt.nz/Documents/20070329.htm

Taito Phillip Field: Does the Minister hear the warning given by Michele Wilkinson-Smith, [NZ Herald] when she stated: "The people who will eventually suffer from the repeal of section 59 are the most vulnerable and powerless members of our community-and their children."-and that will mean many in the Pacific community, which explains its widespread opposition to the Sue Bradford bill-if not, what assurances can the Minister give that good parents who are working hard to raise and correct their children will not be unnecessarily investigated by the police and Child, Youth and Family?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think we can say with quite strong confidence that good parents are not going to be prosecuted under the new section 59, as set out in the bill. The reason for that is that the police guidelines, which follow the Crown Law Office guidelines, make it absolutely clear that minor forms of offending will not be prosecuted. Further to that, there is case law-R v Hende in 1996-where the Court of Appeal itself ruled that a light smack did not merit the stigma of a conviction or a fine. It is clear from Crown Law guidelines, police guidelines, and case law that good parents will not be so prosecuted.


ENDS

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