Key: I won't ignore smacking vote

20:48, Aug 29 2009

Prime Minister John Key has unveiled a compromise option on the so-called anti-smacking law after it was overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum.

Mr Key took a series of proposals to Cabinet today following Friday's resounding referendum victory for opponents of the 2007 child discipline law change.

Preliminary results found 87.6 per cent of those who voted ticked no to the question: ''Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?''

Mr Key said he would ask police and the Social Development Ministry to review their procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes that might be required to ensure good parents were treated as Parliament intended.

An independent person would be appointed to assist in the review.

He had also asked the Social Development Ministry to bring forward its review of the law, which was due by the end of the year.

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That review is looking at the effect of the law change and its effects two years after implementation.

Meanwhile, police would be asked to continue reporting on cases on a six monthly or annual basis for the next three years and include data on cases where parents or caregivers said the force used on a child was reasonable in the circumstances.

"Cabinet has agreed that if future police data indicates a worrying trend the law will be changed," Mr Key said.

That had not been the case so far.

He said parents who lightly smack their children should not fear being treated like criminals, and that he would not ignore the referendum.

The measures outlined today were unlikely to placate those who supported the right to smack, and who wanted the law changed to explicitly allow light smacking.

The referendum was organised after Green MP Sue Bradford's member's bill was passed in 2007. That law change amended the Crimes Act to remove the defence of reasonable force when an adult was charged with assaulting a child.

Mr Key did not want Parliament's time consumed relitigating the ''explosive'' smacking debate and preferred putting in ''additional safeguards''.

Voter turnout on the referendum's initial results was 54 percent, with just over 1.6 million votes  cast.

The final result will be declared tomorrow.

Police respond:

Police say changes to the smacking law have had a minimal impact on policy activity two years after they came into effect.

Police today released their latest summary of the effect of the repeal on section 59 of the Crimes Act, which removed the defence of reasonable force when an adult is charged with assaulting a child.

The report had been delayed due to last Friday's referendum relating to the issue.

Preliminary results found 87.6 percent of those who voted ticked no to the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Deputy police commissioner Rob Pope said since the law change in June 2007 police had brought one prosecution for smacking, which was withdrawn.

A further 13 prosecutions were brought for events classified as "minor acts of physical discipline", which may have included a smacking element, but with other aggravating factors.

Of those cases sentences included diversion, discharge without conviction, conviction and discharge, and supervision.

"The impact has had a minimal impact on police activity and officers have continued to apply a common sense approach," Mr Pope said.

The study looked at 1063 child assault cases identified in the two years as likely to be classed as smacking.

This is because smacking is not an offence.

There were seven offence types that could be classed as smacking and police had studied each case to see whether they applied to the removal of the reasonable force defence.

 - with NZPA

The Dominion Post