Section 59 - Yeah Right!
note: this posting has been updated.
A recent story in the Taranaki Daily News noted that a man was convicted in a New Plymouth court for assaulting his four year old son for pooing his pants. The man unsucessfully used Section 59 of the Crimes Act as a defence. This section provides that "reasonable force" can be used to discipline children.
The man smacked his child so hard that even he was shocked at the bruising.
It’s a lazy story. The story was more about the use of Section 59 than whether the man disciplined his child or assaulted him. There was no mention of how the case got to court, or to the notice of the police.
Yet this case is actually nothing to do with Section 59. Why? Because the force used was not reasonable.
Section 59 of the Crimes Act says:
(1) Every parent [of a child and...every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child], if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.
(2) The reasonableness of the force used is a question of fact.
The mother of the boy, Renee Langley has posted her version of the story on Sage's blog. She writes:
"Hello to all well firstly I guess everyone has a right to their comment. I am the victims mother !!!!!!!! This is not a issue of custody or is it a issue of a simple smack my son was left with hand imprints on his bottom is that simpily smacking i think not. you also have to understand this man has always been violent he has been to jail for beating the shit out of me. He beat me regular wilst I was pregnant threw me against walls while i had my 6wk old bady in my arms he rubbed shity nappies in my face we are not talkinking about a man who tryed to disipline his son we are talking about a man who lost his temper once again he has been violent with ex girlfriends also. i believe in smaking myself but do not under any circumstances believe you should leave your hand print black and blue on your childs bottom. I could go on for every but simily this is a violent man who has been busted"
So why didn't this stuff come out in the article in the Daily News? Apparently they had the information before they wrote the story.
What this half story in the Daily News reveals is that there is more than one side to the story. Sadly, it took the blogs to get the real story out . Sure the father should not have whacked his son, sure the mother was right to speak out.
But, if - and only if - the above information is correct, you have to really ask: What kind of parents are they? The father has been to jail for "beating the shit out of" his partner, convicted for beating his son, who, apparently has a mother who has posted her picture on Old Friends.
After reading the story in the Daily News you may be asking the question "Why should these people be able to use Section 59 as a defence - why not just repeal S59 so they can't use it in court"? Thats the question the Daily News didn't have the balls to ask, although it was certainly implred.
If only it were that easy. It doesn't help when some groups use and politicise Section 59 as a platform for a total ban on smacking. Repealing S59 will not legally mean that there will be a total ban on smacking - but if this section was repealed, then all forms of smacking will be frowned on - even the forms that use reasonable force and the law will be bent.
I would say most smacking is reasonable force. However there is no legal definition for reasonable force and before any thought is made to repeal S59, there needs to be such a definition.I've been saying this for years. Provde this definition and I would consider changing my position on S59. I may post more on that later on today.
Feel free to write a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org pointing out the bits of the story the paper didn't cover.