Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good Dad - Bad Dad ; You be the judge

You be the judge

We've always argued that good parents are being criminalised and harmed by the anti-smacking law and we currently have a number of cases in front of both the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers for their consideration. These have been independently reviewed by a senior policeman.

In the latest case covered by the media we've been saying that this is a 'good dad'. And we stand by that.

We would never support a parent who 'repeatedly throws their child to the ground'. But in this case that NEVER happened!

How do we know? Because we had an observer in the court who heard ALL the facts (unlike the media who relied only on what the witness alleged in the police report!)

In the same way that the anti-correction lobby groups use words like 'beat' 'thrash' and 'violent' to describe a loving parent who may use a smack to correct a child, in this current case, words count.

Please take a moment to read what our observer wrote (our emphasis added):

Dejected and disorientated. That's how I feel after watching proceedings in the District Court today.

The police prosecuted him for pushing his son more than once, and the son either falling or stumbling more than once. It took place on the edge of a rugby field where the son was refusing to get on and join his team. A considerable battle of wills had escalated as the child protested his remiss father's omission to bring the proper shorts in which to play. There was also some problem with the boy digging in his studs in a manner which made him more prone to stumbling as well.

A passer-by intervened and was told to mind her own business. This resulted in a letter to the principal of the school the boy attended. The principal referred the letter to the police. CYF were only involved after the police decided to prosecute. CYF interviewed the family and were happy that the boy was at no further risk. The father's out of the blue arrest, fingerprinting, photographing and interview occurred 3 weeks after the incident took place.

In court today what I have described is what the police read out as their reason for charging the father with common assault. The principle of justice whereby an accused person has the right to face his or her accuser no longer applies. It is up to the police to not just use their discretion about whether to prosecute but also to decide if the testimony has veracity. It is not up to the court to establish such.

The father pleaded guilty primarily because he cannot afford to defend the charge. He doesn't qualify for legal aid and proceedings to date will cost him $1500 he doesn't have. It hurt him badly to make this concession. He hadn't known it was against the law to 'shove' his boy. He has no record of violence and has never been in the dock before. His lawyer made an application for a section 106 discharge without conviction and the police say that due to the level of violence alleged, they will not contest this. The father has agreed to an anti-violence course which helps.

The judge took many minutes to read the many testimonials submitted in support of the father who has raised his two boys single-handedly for most of their lives. During this time, we - myself, the grandparents and partner - all remained very quiet. Apart from the father sniffing and blowing into a tissue in an attempt to hold his composure the room was silent. The father was ashen.

Eventually the judge agrees to remand the father on bail to reappear in two months at which point he should have completed the course of anger management. We filed out with wet eyes and words failing. The lawyer tells the father that there is still no guarantee he will get a discharge without conviction in September. So the distress and uncertainty he was hoping to put behind him today will continue for weeks to come. He tells me he will never trust the police or justice system again.

This is, by their own description, a middle-class well-educated couple. A couple who both work and try to raise their blended family well. The grandparents are bewildered. Angry. Like me. Disorientated and dejected. But that is nothing compared to what the father is feeling.

The bar has been lowered. The police can and will prosecute any degree of force on hearsay. Be warned.

There are some important issues here:
1. Why didn't the woman witness report it immediately to the police rather than writing to the principal. Was she just annoyed at being told to mind her own business?
2. Why was the witness the only one concerned about the father's actions when there were many many other parents present at the sportsfield who weren't concerned?
3. Why did the police not interview other potential witnesses rather than rely on one passer-by?
4. The dad was trying to get the child on to the sports field to play. Why would he 'push the child to the ground' which would defeat that purpose?
5. Why prosecute if the police are willing to accept discharge without conviction? Do they have no other choice under this law?
5. By the police using the phrase 'repeatedly pushed to the ground' based on what only the witness said, they have portrayed a dad dealing with a strong-willed child as abusive
6. By the media using this terminology, they have done what the anti-smacking supporters have done. Words matter, and by changing 'attempting to push the child on to the field to play' to 'repeatedly pushed to the ground' they have changed the whole nature of the actions of the parent.
7. Does this mean that using force to remove a protesting child (who may also fall to the ground in protest - as they do!!) to 'time-out' is potentially an assault???

There is an updated report in the NZ Herald today which has brought some balance to the coverage.

One other note:

The 'perfect parent lobby' aka Barnados, Plunket, Families Commission and Deborah Morris believe that parents should NEVER get tired, frustrated, or angry and should ALWAYS correct bad behaviour with precision and perfection!

They are still looking for their 'poster parent'!!!

As stated at the beginning, good parents are being criminalised by a flawed law.

We will continue to fight against a law that does that. We'd be keen to hear your feedback on this issue.

Thanks for speaking up on this issue, and please encourage people to visit our website

Got a comment on this issue? Email

Have a great week

Bob McCoskrie
National Director

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