Family First NZ says that the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill being pushed through by the government is dangerous for parents who fall foul of the anti-smacking law, and will deny their right to a fair trial.
“By removing the right to choose trial by jury for crimes punishable by less than three years in prison, the Government has not thought carefully about the implications that would have for parents who are prosecuted for minor acts of physical discipline or smacking,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“The anti-smacking debate has led to an ill-conceived and confusing law and if this new regime is implemented, it would further exasperate good parents who find themselves before the courts because it takes away their choice to choose to be tried before their peers who will take a realistic approach, rather than a strictly legal application of a flawed law.”
“There have been recent examples where only the common sense of juries has protected parents from the actions of politicians. These include a couple who faced 15 charges of excessive time out and chores, physically restraining a child, and smacking – and who were acquitted by the jury unanimously on all 15 charges. And a father was acquitted in the Wellington District Court in June by a jury after being charged for attempting to control a disruptive and unruly child.”
The UK Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said, when similar changes were proposed in the UK, that the “proposal is one more example of disjointed and haphazard attempts to save money with apparently no guiding intelligence to safeguard justice. Trial by jury is a fundamental right in cases where the defendant is at risk of imprisonment for a serious criminal offence or loss of their good reputation.”
The Queensland Law Society argued that “the personal implications of conviction for even a minor offence may be serious for some alleged offenders and in such a case it is understandable if the accused were to elect Trial by Jury upon being advised that they have a greater chance of acquittal before a jury.”
And the NZ Law Society said an important consideration was the “impact on the fundamental right of everybody in our society to have a fair trial.”
Family First is calling for an exemption to the removal of the choice of trial by jury for assault on a child, or by a male on a female, assault with intent to injure, and aggravated assault.