Supreme Court decision in James Mason case nothing to do with s59 law change; NZ First heading backwards, with support for Family First's demands. Time to give it up, Bob.

The s59 law change hit the headlines again yesterday by default, with the Supreme Court overturning Christchurch man James Mason’s conviction for assaulting his four year old boy by pulling his ear and punching him.

Immediately Family First issued a media release saying that this case "should still sound warning bells to parents about the implementation of the anti-smacking law".

National Director Bob McCoskrie goes on to say, among other things, that "good parents taking their kids for a bike ride and trying to keep them safe deserve the support of the state – not criminalisation".

Well, Mr McCroskrie, I would just like to say in response that I don’t think the Supreme Court judgement has anything at all to do with the s59 law change. Nor does it imply anything, one way or another, about Mr Mason’s alleged assaults on his son.

As the Supreme Court of New Zealand makes clear in its own press release, the Court allowed Mr Mason’s appeal because of a misdirection by the trial judge to the jury. In essence, the two separate charges of assault should have been divided and not dealt with together.

This is a very different matter from a decision implying, for example, that no assaults happened.

Basically, this court judgment is not relevant to the s59 debate, and I am disappointed by the Family First implication that it is.

Sure, Mr Mason has had his appeal against the assault conviction upheld.

But I don’t believe this suddenly gives him or any other parent license to assault their child, whether it is ear pulling, punching or any other form of physical discipline.

While I am unquestionably at the opposite end of the political spectrum from John Key and National, the one thing I unequivocally thank them for is their refusal to back down from their support for my 2007 member’s bill, despite enormous pressure from some quarters.

It was therefore disappointing to see Winston Peters making his comeback this weekend in part on the basis of support for relegalising violence against children, at least according to Family First.

I was quite impressed by the old fox’s sudden empathy for the position of students, with Mr Peters’ announcement of support for a universal student allowance.

Despite the superannuated appearance of many of the NZ First conventioneers shown in TV coverage over the weekend, I figured at least Winston’s clever enough to realise he’s got to start winning the votes of younger people at some stage, if he really is serious about a return to Parliament.

However, I suspect that going on to say that his party will focus on amending the s59 law as one strand of their election policy is not a move that is likely to endear Mr Peters and his colleagues to the younger voters, many of whom, I am sure, rather like the idea that children now have the same legal protection from violence as adults enjoy.

In late October, Family First once again placed full page ads in the Herald, Dominion Post and Christchurch Press, calling on John Key to change the s59 law to ‘decriminalise light smacking for the purpose of correction’.

Mr McCoskrie and his supporters are certainly tenacious, and I continue to be amazed by the amount of money they are prepared to pour into fighting a cause based on defining the level and nature of violence we parents should legally be allowed to use on our children.

According to the 6th Police review of the Crimes (Substituted s59) Amendment Act published in March this year, there had at that point been only two prosecutions for ‘smacking events’ in the entire period since the bill became law.

Over and over again Police make these reports; over and over again it is clear that there is no widespread prosecution of parents for minor or trivial acts of physical discipline.

I hope that one day Mr McCoskrie and his followers will wake up to the same growing realisation that more New Zealanders are coming to each day – that our children are happier, healthier and safer if they aren’t subject to assault as part of their upbringing.

I also dream of the time when New Zealanders will work together across political and ideological divides to do more to address the real causes of family violence and abuse, and not keep getting distracted by a determination, by some, to restore the defence of ‘reasonable force for the purposes of correction’ – an archaic law which daily grows more outmoded and indefensible.

Comments (3)

by Ben Curran on November 04, 2010
Ben Curran

I must admit, I havn't seen that old chestnut for a while. The "case gets dismissed on a technicality, therefore we're going to promote it as a problem with the law as it is written" chestnut. It doesn't really get any less depressing each time I see it either. At best, in polite conversation it could be called "spin" I suppose. Idiotic misleading spin, yes, but spin nonetheless.

by Chris de Lisle on November 04, 2010
Chris de Lisle

As a younger voter, I'm not convinced that my cohort is particularly fussed about s.59. We are closer to childhood, yes, but that dosen't mean we have any special sympathy for them- we're not especially likely to have much to do with them on a day to day basis. I think it unlikely to trump a universal student allowance.

We're just as likely to make the same, "I was smacked and I'm OK" arguments as any other segment of the population (Possibly more so because many of us are still materially or emotionally dependant on our parents). Actually, that seemed to be the mainstream view among my cohort of not-yet voter back when s.59 was passed.

We do have a tendency to run to one ideological extreme or the other, probably because of our limited life experience. As a result there are a lot of young people who will be strongly opposed to Family First (& you are probably quite likely to have run into them from time to time). But an awful lot of young people also rushed to the other end of the spectrum on this issue.

by Ian MacKay on November 09, 2010
Ian MacKay

I heard Mr Mason say that he had not been cleared of the charges. He was regretful about that.

By the way, should a wise parent be allowing pre-schoolers to be riding bikes in a place that puts them at risk of spilling out onto a city road? I'm all for challenge but risk has to suit the age.

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