Laws: Police decision fails test of compassion

Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013
Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: The partners of all criminals should be held liable if they know of their spouse's illegal activities.

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Three years ago, I represented a constituent at a coronial inquiry into the death of his wife and unborn child. The mother died giving birth to her child and the child died too. There were serious questions as to the quality of midwifery and specialist care provided by the local hospital.

OPINION: By the end of the inquiry, it seemed plain to me and many others, that no medical intervention could have saved the mother but that an emergency caesarean would have saved the child.

However, the coroner refused to take any evidence on the latter point because an unborn child, she explained, has no rights under the Coroner's Act. They are, in essence, irrelevant.

Compare that with this past week's cruel decision by Wellington Police to prosecute Bililgne Gebretsadik for the death of his 33-week-old foetus/unborn child after being involved in a motor accident.

Gebretsadik was driving a car with his pregnant wife Seble in the passenger's seat when it collided with another car at an intersection. There was no suggestion that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs - the charge is careless driving causing death.

Although the facts are disputed - in particular whether the defendant had the green light or not - the child died. And even that description causes us problems because, generally, unborn children don't have legal rights in this country. Which is acceptable if they can't be born independently, but is interesting if they are 33 weeks and would likely survive, if born that day.

Nevertheless, the police are prosecuting under the Land Transport Act.

This is, without question, police pedantry. They admit it's a test case, and that it has never been attempted before, but hey . . . they're not doing anything else with their time or taxpayer-funded resources. And that's the part that infuriates me, and should infuriate all of us.

The police can't do their job properly when it comes to the most common crimes that afflict New Zealanders. They are complete duds at finding those who burgle or steal from our homes and our cars. In fact, so bad are the police at this basic police work that you have a four-out-of-five chance of burgling a house in your neighbourhood, and getting away with it. Better still, of not having the police investigate at all.

Indeed it is one of the prime reasons that the public have lost so much confidence in the police over the years. Their inability to understand that it is the burglaries, car theft and assaults that are the most common crimes in New Zealand, and are most likely to affect ordinary people.

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But they are all low priority for the police - who over-saturate murder cases with resources and then have a tendency to stuff it up in court later.

No, far better to chase down, harry and prosecute a man (and his wife) who have tragically lost their unborn child. Far more compassionate, and human, to taunt and torment them.

- Sunday Star Times

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