Smacking law has criminalised parents – top lawyer

NZ Herald 17 November 2014
Leading public lawyer Mai Chen says New Zealand’s 2007 changes to smacking law have criminalised “good parents”.

A legal opinion signed by Ms Chen for the lobby group Family First says case law since Section 59 of the Crimes Act was changed have confirmed that is now illegal for parents to use force against a child for the purpose of correction, even if the force is “reasonable”.

“Therefore, in our opinion, statements made by politicians to the effect that the new Section 59 does not criminalise ‘good parents’ for lightly smacking their children are inconsistent with the legal effect of Section 59 and the application of that section in practice,” the opinion says.

Ms Chen and her firm Chen Palmer declined to comment on the opinion, but Family First director Bob McCoskrie said the law should be changed again, in line with the Australian state of Victoria, to clarify that “light smacking” should be allowed as long as it did not involve either the use of implements or hitting a child’s head or neck.

“We are calling for the decriminalisation of light smacking. Eighty-eight per cent of New Zealanders called for that in a referendum [in 2009],” he said.

Police reviews show that police investigated 143 alleged cases of “smacking” and 435 allegations of minor acts of physical discipline, such as slapping and hitting children, in the first five years of the new law up to June 2012.