Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Police prepare rules to act on smacks

Police prepare rules to act on smacks

By TRACY WATKINS - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Police chiefs are preparing to send out guidelines for dealing with complaints about smacking as a bill outlawing the use of physical punishment looks set to become law.
The guidelines for dealing with complaints under the new law are likely to be delivered to police officers as soon as it comes into effect, which will be days after its final vote, as early as a fortnight from now.

Police headquarters said yesterday it could not comment on the final shape of the guidelines because they were still in draft form and dependent on the final shape of the law.

But Police Association president Greg O'Connor said police guidelines in their current form made it clear they would have no choice but to act on smacking complaints.

"We believe that under the policy as it exists it will be referred to as domestic violence."

Unless there was a change to the guidelines once the law was passed, police would have no discretion.

"If it is family violence and there is evidence of violence, the policy is quite clear, the offender must be arrested.

"That means an admission or a witness saying they saw someone smack. Police will have no choice but to arrest a person acting on a complaint."

The bill's passage appears almost certain now that the Maori Party's four MPs say they will vote against a "smacking clause" put up by National MP Chester Borrows, which will be voted on tonight. Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples acknowledged yesterday the decision of his MPs would not be popular with many people.

"But we're asking New Zealand to be brave - to look at the possibility of a culture where we don't hit our children and that we can actually find an alternative way of bringing up our children."

The clause would have rewritten the bill to allow parents to smack their children so long as they did not leave bruises and the effects were only trifling.

The champion of the so-called anti-smacking bill, Green MP Sue Bradford, said yesterday the Borrows amendment had posed the biggest threat to her bill and the Maori Party decision meant she had the numbers to pass her legislation into law.

Yesterday, she issued a legal opinion from Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer rejecting claims from the bill's opponents that it would criminalise parents for lifting a child on to a time-out mat.

Mr Borrows was refusing to give up, saying he thought he could still sway the minds of some MPs. However, that would require either NZ First MPs Doug Woolerton and Brian Donnelly or United Future leader Peter Dunne to change their votes, and all three yesterday confirmed their support for Ms Bradford's bill.

Prime Minister Helen Clark welcomed the Maori Party's stance, and defended Labour's decision to make the issue a party vote, rather than a conscience vote.

"We believe it's such a serious issue and it's so important to deal with violence against children that as a government, we believe the right thing to do is to back a change in the law which will help. As a party, we have decided this is the position we will take."

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