Faces of Innocents: Do we need a special law for child killings?

There is a "strong case" for specifically tailored child homicide and abuse charges in New Zealand, a law professor says. Massey University deputy pro vice-chancellor Chris Gallavin made the comments in a live interview on Wednesday for the Faces of Innocents project.

Gallavin said the current manslaughter law was too inflexible. There should be more "nuanced" options that deal specifically with child killers, he said.

"They're only children, they're small, they're particularly vulnerable and when you're an adult - male or female - any act of violence against a child ... is dangerous," he said.

The options for charging in cases of child abuse have come under intense scrutiny after the killers of 3-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri were convicted of manslaughter, instead of murder.

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It was also revealed on Wednesday that a man who offered to plead guilty to a baby's manslaughter later walked away, acquitted of murder.

Moko Rangitoheriri's death has prompted public debate over manslaughter laws.
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Moko Rangitoheriri's death has prompted public debate over manslaughter laws.

Gallavin said the prosecutors in the case against Moko's killers - his carers Tania Shailer and David Haerewa - had a tough job.

They had to prove either that the routine bashings the pair dealt to the toddler represented an intention to kill. Or, they had to prove it was "reckless killing" - that they knew the risk of what they were doing to Moko could cause his death.

The threshold for murder probably left prosecutors unsure about the odds of securing guilty verdicts for the higher charge, Gallavin said.

With only murder, manslaughter and infanticide options available in child homicide cases, it was left to sentencing judges to determine just how culpable a child's killer was.

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That put judges under a "huge amount of public pressure," Gallavin said.

He pointed to "partial defence" options used overseas, such as provocation and diminished responsibility where defendants could admit that they killed someone, but explore in their defence factors such as mental health and paranoia if they fell short of insanity acquittal grounds.

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There could be a "degrees" of murder system to cover all different kinds of cases, as was the case in some states of the USA, he said.

Auckland University law Professor Bill Hodge has argued, however, that allowing a degrees system could lead to an avalanche of appeals.

"I agree with Bill in the sense that there would be more appeals," Gallavin said.

"I don't think it would get to the stage that it would be gridlocked."

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 - Stuff

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