Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Everyday mums and dads to face the music

Article from 20 June 07

Parents who regularly smack their children despite warnings face prosecution and referral to Child, Youth and Family under police guidelines on the controversial law banning physical punishment.

Even parents found to have used "minor, trivial or inconsequential" force and not charged will have their details recorded by police family violence coordinators, under the guidelines sent to officers yesterday.

The advice, from Police Commissioner Howard Broad, is a crucial element in the implementation of the law that abolishes the defence of reasonable force for parents who smack their children. The law comes into force on Friday.

It was passed with overwhelming support after a last-minute deal between Labour and National brought a clause making it clear that police were not expected to prosecute "inconsequential" smacking.

But though that is recognised in the guidelines, there is no definition of "inconsequential", with officers told it will ultimately be up to the courts to determine in test cases.

The advice says that smacking not considered inconsequential by investigating officers may be prosecuted if it is "repetitive and frequent" and previous warnings or interventions have been ignored.

Such incidents would constitute assault, and must be referred to child abuse investigators and CYFS.

Parents who are investigated for smacking that is found to be too trivial to prosecute will have their details handed to family violence officers.

Family First director Bob McCoskrie, who led a massive campaign against the law change, said the guidelines confirmed many of the fears raised by opponents.

"Who's going to be the lucky test case parents who have to go through the hell of a prosecution? If the police are saying 'we're not sure', how in the heck are parents going to be certain that they're parenting within the law?"

But Green MP Sue Bradford, who introduced the bill, said the guidelines gave police "some context" in which to make decisions.

"Is it just once, is it very light, is it twice and very light, or is it twice and very heavy? It was never the intention that every occasion that someone ever lightly smacked would necessarily be prosecuted. I think that the police have walked that fine line here very well."

The guidelines say hitting with a weapon or implement, strikes to the head and kicking should "generally" be prosecuted. In borderline smacking cases, police should consider the child's age, maturity, ability to reason, physical development, health and sex and the circumstances that led to the use of force.

National's leader, John Key, said today his party would keep a close watch on developments.

"The critical test of this legislation was always going to be the way it was administered," he said.

"But I am confident the police will administer the law with the appropriate judgment and discretion required."

Mr Key said a National-led government would change the law if it was not working.

"The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders do not want to see good parents criminalised for an 'inconsequential' smack. That's what National signed up to, and that's still the case."

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