In the last 24 hours I have been following the debate over the father convicted for assaulting his son. Predictably I have heard differing views from many people whose sense I respect. On the one hand I have heard that he was only prosecuted for delivering three smacks. On the other I have heard that there were other factors, the man lost his temper and left bruises.
Reflecting on this has led me to wonder if there is more to this than the surface debate. Is this debate simply a symptom of a corruption of confidence that has occurred in the last few years (or even few months).
Under the old law we knew that a person accused of child abuse could argue that their act was reasonable in the circumstances. We knew also that 12 people, randomly selected from the population, screened for bias had examined the facts and we knew there were strict rules of evidence applied. We also knew that the judiciary and police were independent of the government. And we knew that if an error was made we could appeal to higher independent tribunals if necessary. Hence if a person was prosecuted for “assaulting their child” we could have a degree of confidence they had done so unjustifiably. We also had some confidence that mistakes would be corrected. Of course the system was not perfect. It never is. But it was reliable.
Now we don’t. There is no distinction between reasonable and unreasonable force for correction in law. All force for correction no matter how trivial is unreasonable under the letter of the law. We know that this is absurd and against common sense. However we are told that we do not have to worry because police can exercise discretion and we can trust them.
The problem is, many of the same people have just told us that the police cannot be trusted. In the last month we have been told that are police are racist and will accuse of terrorism without evidence often from the same community that supported appealing S 59.The greens have warned us that, under terrorism legislation that state have wide discretion that they can use the police to silence dissent. Apparently those in power can’t be trusted to use commonsense in discretion. The Maori party has also told us that this police, whom can be trusted to exercise discretion, overreact to allegations of violence and will proceed terrorize families and children in their zeal. Both these groups exhorted us to trust police discretion in their voting on s59. We know that only in the last 24 hours a high profile police officer, who has been dodged by rape charges for several years, has resigned before he faced investigation on unspecified charges of misconduct. We also know several of his colleagues have been convicted of rape. We also know that at least three MP’s have committed assaults, the police know it, and they choose not to prosecute. We know that one of these MP’s assaulted children while a teacher and this was not considered serious. We also know that the police seem to almost never prosecute labour MP’s who commit crimes accept when those MP’s are ones known to be offside with the PM. We also know, however, that they did try to Prosecute National MP Nick Smith and that merely owing 35$ to an MP warrants a police car to be dispatched to the creditors house. We also know that recently evidence suppressed by the courts was leaked to the media, and confident claims by people on the far-left is that that the police, whom these people assure us we can trust to not use their power unjustly, leaked the documents to subvert a fair trial.
As to the courts we have heard in the last 24 hours, again from the Greens, that the court may have convicted and innocent man for murder. We know also that the Privy Council overturned another murder conviction, one that had been subjected to intense review from all NZ’s appeal courts, and described it as a miscarriage of justice. We also know that the privacy council has been scrapped, because the government considers it unnecessary, and that the ruling party now appoints the judges. We also are aware of evidence the court suppressed in the aforementioned police rape case may have lead to their conviction. We also suspect the courts have suppressed evidence which appears to provide a basis for thinking a group of people are terrorists.
We also have no idea what exactly our leaders consider reasonable or unreasonable force. We are told that violence is never OK. But that an MP who punches another will not face any serious ramification. We also know that a history of abusing children as a teacher does not disqualify you from being a government minister. While violence is never OK, we also are told that people who talk about killing pakeha, talk about engaging in armed insurgency, talk about assassinating people, also buy military weapons, dress as military soldiers and practice military style maneuvers are just mouthing of and it’s an overreaction to think otherwise. Apparently activists on the left mouth off like this all the time. On the other hand we have heard that health professionals should should ask questions of all women admitted to their care in order to screen for violence and abuse. And we know that these questions seem to work with a definition of abuse so broad that everyone is an abuser. Those on the left tell us that while it’s unwarranted to gain warrants for phone taps and surveillance under terror legislation for the above mentioned “mouthing off” families need professionals to regularly monitor them to prevent potential violence.
We also have no clue what the law actually says or how it will be applied. We have just been informed this father would have been prosecuted even if the old law was in place. But they also told us that legislative change was necessary because the old law allowed people to beat their children with planks of wood and could get away with almost anything. They also told us that this law does not mean smacking is illegal. In addition they told us that smacking was already illegal and always had been.
And it’s not just this law. We have been told that the terrorism suppression act was incoherent and impossible to apply. At the same time the MP’s were voting on a slightly amended version of the act and it passed with an overwhelming majority. We have heard that the Electoral Finance Bill law is confusing and difficult to interpret and could threaten our civil liberties. But that’s OK because, you can trust the police the courts and the government to rely on the law of commonsense. As you see from the examples above what our MP’s consider commonsense is difficult to discern.
In a fallen world violence is sometimes necessary. But it needs to be regulated. A civil society needs clear laws that the population can understand and which it’s reasonable to think most people can obey. Exceptions to these laws need to be understandable and not excessively complex to apply. These laws need to be applied impartially to all people regardless of their political allegiances and people who are governed by these laws need to be able to find out what they are. Most importantly we need to be able to trust those in authority to competently establish and maintain such a system
New Zealand is failing to do this. Our leaders in parliament are all over the place, and we have no idea whether those in charge can be trusted to do what they are supposed to do or even know what they are doing. For these reasons people justifiably do not trust the courts or the police to be sensible in prosecuting assaults nor do they trust legislators to pass adequate laws about assault and. And that is the real tragedy of this case.