Our society should be deeply disturbed today on learning the details of a case of parental disciplining that fell foul of our barmy anti-smacking laws.
It involves a mum who thought long and hard before deciding a few wallops with a belt were the only way to get through to an ill-behaved eight-year-old.
And it involves a judge who saw the mother’s “considered decision” to strap her son as an aggravating circumstance.
Thinking about it first made the smacking worse than if she’d done it in anger.
And so she was landed with an assault conviction.
Worse, she and her partner lost their jobs.
And this makes ours a better society – how exactly?
Critics of our namby-pamby anti-smacking law have properly seized on the case as an example of good parents being criminalised.
That’s contrary to the assurances from politicians who voted for the legislation when the law came in and precisely what Alf warned would happen.
Fair to say, the couple have got justice at last in the Court of Appeal.
The woman and her partner, both South Island teachers, were convicted after they strapped their 8-year-old son, over his pyjamas, with a belt in January last year.
But after taking their case all the way to the Court of Appeal, they were discharged without conviction.
Alf is outraged things were ever allowed to get that far and that a well considered disciplinary action has been so costly for the couple.
The Sunday Star-Times today gives us the couple’s story: the boy had a history of behavioural difficulties, had seen psychiatrists, and the family had approached Child Youth and Family.
When he was discovered for a second time doing “something that put another child’s health at risk”, they said it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
“I felt like I had gone down all the right channels. He did it again. I thought what else can I do to try to get him to realise it’s not acceptable behaviour?” H said.
She asked her partner to give the boy the strap that night. “We talked to our son so he knew why. We needed him to know it wasn’t OK.”
But then the bloody do-gooders got in on the act.
A CYF worker was told a few weeks later, police were notified, charges were laid…
The couple pleaded guilty and applied for discharges without conviction to avoid putting the boy through a trial.
The plea fell on deaf ears.
Judge Tony Zohrab denied the applications, saying “the fact it was a considered decision to assault him” was an aggravating factor. They both lost their jobs because of the convictions, and the boy was sent to live with other family.
The mother’s partner got a discharge without conviction in the High Court, but her offending was deemed worse because she had told police she had used a wooden spoon on the boy in the past.
So onwards and upwards to the Court of Appeal, where the judges said they had “considerable sympathy” for her.
Justices O’Regan, Arnold and Randerson said H was dealing with a child with identifiable behavioural problems, and an incident any parent would have found challenging to deal with.
“She had sought appropriate expert assistance with the child, and had utilised a range of non-physical measures to address behaviour.
“While not condoning the use of physical violence for disciplinary purposes, the actions taken by G at H’s request were at the lower end of the scale.”
The court said the assault was “over clothing and involved, at most, one or two hits with a belt being used as a strap”.
Significantly, the Court of Appeal judges ruled Zohrab had erred in “overstating the gravity of the offending”, and the consequences – particularly losing their jobs – were out of proportion.
The mother recalls thinking, when the anti-smacking law was introduced, it would stop people from abusing their children.
“I didn’t for a second think I would get criminalised.”
But that, inevitably, is what has happened.
Caring parents are being criminalised.
Abusive parents, the scum the law ostensibly was designed to constrain, are continuing to abuse – and kill – their kids.
Family First director Bob McCroskie said the case showed the law “coming home to roost”.
“This mother has had her career damaged, lost income and faced legal fees, and it’s caused irreparable damage to the family.
“She was honest, asked for help, went to professionals who never came running with assistance – but were quick to prosecute.”
McCroskie said one lesson to all good parents is to be careful what they admit.
Police criminal investigations national manager Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said a review of smacking investigation figures showed discretion was being used.
“It’s a matter of degree. Generally speaking, the use of a weapon to hit a child is unacceptable.”
A few whacks with a belt bring weaponry into considerations, presumably. Good grief. This makes Alf’s parents something akin to armed thugs.
But Alf was fortunate to have been raised in an era when we recognised that sparing the rod would spoil the child.
The law allows reasonable force to be used, of course, but “reasonable” was not defined.
Alf’s idea of what it means – we can be sure – differs from Judge Zohrab’s and the cops’ idea of what it means.