‘Ear-flick’ father guilty of assault

NZ Herald May 20, 2009

A Christchurch father has been found guilty of assaulting his 4-year-old son after a two-day trial seen as a test of the anti-smacking laws. After more than nine hours of deliberation, the Christchurch District Court jury last night found James Louis Mason not guilty of assault for lifting the bicycles his two sons were sitting on and slamming them back down. But the third count – which accused him of pulling the 4-year-old’s ear and punching him in the face – brought a guilty verdict. Mason denied all charges, but said he pulled the child’s hair and flicked his ear to stop him going back into a dangerous situation on his bike on the Bridge of Remembrance ramp in central Christchurch where his 2-year-old had fallen and hurt his head. Witnesses at the trial did not see the incident on the ramp. But they told of hearing Mason afterwards, swearing and shouting at the boys.

…Family First director Bob McCoskrie said last night the conviction was appropriate if it was for punching a child. But there was a concern that Mason may have been found guilty for only the ear-pull, as the actions of punching, and pulling the ear, were wrapped up in the same police charge. “If that’s the case, then it’s a decision that does concerns us. We would like that clarified to understand how the law is being interpreted by the police and the courts.” The anti-smacking legislation was passed by Parliament in May 2007, removing from the Crimes Acts the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically punish children. Family First is campaigning for the repeal of the law and in March issued survey findings showing many parents were still confused about the law change. As the law stands a light smack would not always be illegal. But 55 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed thought smacking was always illegal, 31 per cent thought it was not, and 14 per cent did not know.