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Lawyers back Bradford bill

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on April 26, 2007

Source: The Nelson Mail

Lawyers back Bradford bill

By DANIEL NIELSEN – The Nelson Mail | Monday, 23 April 2007

Adults have more protection under the law from assault than children do, say Nelson family lawyers who support Sue Bradford’s child discipline bill.

The Green MP’s proposal to remove the defence of reasonable force in disciplining children from the Crimes Act has split the nation and whipped up a storm of protest – all misguided and misinformed, said lawyers spoken to by the Nelson Mail.

Nelson family lawyer Jeremy Glasgow said the anti-smacking debate was exposing exactly what was wrong with many people who were more concerned about the risk to adults than to children.

“People are winding themselves up for the wrong reasons.”

He said the current law meant parents had to be “extraordinarily brutal” to be convicted of assaulting their children, and he believed that New Zealand juries were extremely reluctant to find parents guilty of assault.

“We don’t have the common good in mind – we have our selfish needs.

“I’ve dealt with cases where it would have been much easier to deal with the abuse of children had the law not been as ambiguous as it is.”

Mr Glasgow cited the case of a Timaru mother who admitted hitting her son with a horse whip and a bamboo cane but was found not guilty of assault, on the grounds that she had used reasonable force. Had she hit an adult, it was more likely that she would have been found guilty, he said.

Another Nelson family lawyer, Anne Todd-Lambie, said she had been a proponent of removing the reasonable force defence from the Crimes Act for many years.

She said she would like to be able to invite all the people who opposed Ms Bradford’s bill to sit on a Child, Youth and Family care and protection panel, as she did for eight years, “and see the abuse of children in New Zealand across all social spectrums”. The panels advise CYF staff or police who are investigating child abuse.

Ms Todd-Lambie said there was a huge amount of misinformation about the bill, which had been “watered down” considerably by a parliamentary select committee.

She said organisations such as New Zealand’s biggest childcare organisation, Barnardos, and child health service provider Plunket were supporting the bill. “Can you say Plunket doesn’t support parents?”

Ms Todd-Lambie said she had been involved in the case of an 11-year-old girl whose stepfather “took to her” with a plastic pipe. “He got off. That was reasonable force.”

Lawyer Frank Freeman said the New Zealand Law Society’s family law section, of which he was the Nelson region representative, did not endorse the select committee’s amendments to the bill.

The amendments were “totally ludicrous”, as they contravened the original idea that violence against children was unacceptable, he said.

Mr Freeman, who said he was “anti-smacking”, said the amendments weakened the bill.

New Zealand had an appalling record of child abuse, and under the proposed amendments, parents would be allowed to use force when “performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting”.

Paul Genet is another Nelson family lawyer in favour of Ms Bradford’s bill. He said parents had nothing to worry about and would still be able to physically discipline their children.

Mr Genet said he had smacked his son when he was younger. “Did it do him any good? I’m not sure. The reality is, most people discipline their children.” The reality was that New Zealand had the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the Western world, and something needed to be done about that, he said.

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