Concern at move against suspected child abusers

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2013

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Plans to clamp down on suspected child abusers will hurt kids and wrongly brand innocent parents, the privacy commissioner says.

Commissioner Marie Shroff said the planned child harm prevention orders, which could be used to restrict the movement of people considered a high risk to children, failed the "accuracy test" and should be scrapped.

The orders would inevitably be imposed on people who would never offend against children, restricting their freedom and potentially affecting their families, including the very children the orders were meant to protect.

"Predictions about future offending are likely to be wrong at least as often as they are right," she said.

However, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said Ms Shroff was considering the orders from "one lens".

"I look at it from the sad reality that there are children in real danger of abuse," she said. "At the end of the day, we've made the decision to put children first."

She was confident the thresholds for imposing orders on people never convicted of child abuse were high enough.

Ms Shroff was commenting on the Government's omnibus bill to tackle child abuse, which is being considered by the social services select committee.

The bill includes compulsory vetting of 376,000 government employees working with children, tougher restrictions on abusive parents, and the child harm prevention orders.

The orders can be slapped on anyone deemed a "high risk" of offending against children for up to 10 years, even if they have never been convicted of an offence.

They could be used to restrict contact with children or places frequented by them, such as schools or swimming pools.

The orders have already been criticised for eroding the presumption of innocence.

In her submission, Ms Shroff said the orders would rely on "speculative" predictions about a person's future offending.

"Inaccurate predictions will have a cost. Individuals who are wrongly subject to [an order] . . . will have their freedom significantly curtailed."

The Government's own legislative advisory committee, chaired by a Court of Appeal judge, was also concerned about the orders, saying they would be "punitive" but lacked the vital checks and balances of a criminal hearing.

However, other submitters, including the children's commissioner, supported the orders, judging any curtailing of rights a worthwhile trade-off to protect children.

The Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP foundation said difficulty obtaining evidence from children made it hard to lay charges, and child witnesses left "at the mercy" of aggressive defence lawyers made convictions even harder.

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Public hearings on the child abuse bill start next week.

- Fairfax Media

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