“I Was Preventing, Not Correcting, Bad Behaviour Officer!” – Advice to Parents

A leading QC has recommended to parents that they never acknowledge that they are “correcting” bad behaviour once the Anti-Smacking law is passed in Parliament.

“Because good parents who use reasonable force to effectively correct offensive or disruptive behaviour or defiance from a child will be exposed to criminal liability and investigation under the new anti-smacking law, it is essential that they receive good advice and protection,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

Family First asked leading QC Grant Illingworth for his opinion regarding the new law.

Mr Illingworth said “The difficulty with the section is that it does not tell us what “correction” means.  In ordinary language, and for most ordinary people, correction would include preventing a child from continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour and preventing harm to another child.  But that cannot be the correct interpretation because it would mean that the section is self contradictory.”

“This means that “correction” will have to be given a somewhat artificial meaning that does not correspond with the ordinary use of language.  The question is: what will “correction” be held to mean?  This is a question of enormous importance because, if a parent intends “correction” then, even if the parent would otherwise have a defence, that defence will no longer be available by reason of s 59(2).”

“The moral of the story is that, in any investigation, it would be extremely unwise for a parent to admit that she or he was attempting to correct a child’s aberrant behaviour.  And if that isn’t silly, I don’t know what is.”

Mr Illingworth responded to two scenarios presented by Family First, and how the new law could apply –

1. A child is having a tantrum in the supermarket because mum won’t buy that lolly, and mum gives the child a light smack on the bottom which brings the child under control. An observer reports the parent to the police. Does the parent have a defence under s59?

Illingworth QC – The mother who smacks the child lightly in the supermarket to stop a tantrum is arguably using reasonable force to prevent the child from continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour, so she has an apparent defence so long as her purpose is not “correction”.

2. A child throws a toy at his brother’s head. Mum tells him to go to his room. The child refuses. Mum grabs him by the arm and literally has to drag a screaming child, who is throwing his arms all around, to the room. The child tells his school teacher who rings CYF. Does the parent have a defence under s59?

The mother who drags her child to its room to stop violent behaviour towards a sibling is also arguably using reasonable force to prevent the child from continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour.  She may, as well, be preventing further harm to the other child.  She too has an apparent defence so long as her purpose is not “correction”.

“The bottom line is that we have created a confusing law,” says Mr McCoskrie. “This is bad news for good parents who wish to parent within the law. The good news is that we do not have a blanket ban on smacking – despite the misrepresentation by the supporters of the law change.”

ENDS