Amicus Curiae: March for Moko - New Zealand's Family Violence Problem

Ruby Grubb, Content Contributor

Murder and manslaughter: same maximum penalty, process and homicidal act. Different sentence, stigma and sense of justice. To the families of escalated domestic abuse and communities tired of soft judicial penalties, the terms ‘murder’ and ‘manslaughter’ are not just labels.

Murder is defined under section 167 of the Crimes Act 1961: “(a) if the offender means to cause the death of the person killed (b) if the offender means to cause to the person killed any bodily injury that is known to the offender to be likely to cause death, and is reckless whether death ensues or not (c) if the offender means to cause death, or, being so reckless as aforesaid means to cause such bodily injury as aforesaid to one person, and by accident or mistake kills another person, though he or she does not mean to hurt the person killed (d) if the offender for any unlawful object does an act that he or she knows to be likely to cause death, and thereby kills any person, though he or she may have desired that his or her object should be effected without hurting any one.”

Punishment of murder is outlined under section 172: “(1) every one who commits murder is liable to imprisonment for life (2) subsection (1) is subject to section 102 of the Sentencing Act 2002.” Manslaughter is defined under section 171 as “except as provided in section 178, culpable homicide not amounting to murder is manslaughter.”

This difference, whether slight or great is particularly relevant in the New Zealand context. This is because one of the core issues we face as a nation, is domestic violence. In fact, in half of all homicides in New Zealand, the offender is a family member of the victim. This translates to a family violence investigation by NZ Police roughly every five and a half minutes. This is an outrageous statistic, particularly in light of the fact that 76% of family violence incidents are not reported. Furthermore, 14% of young people have reported being intentionally psychically harmed by an adult at home over the last 12 months and between 2009 and 2012, an average of 9 children were killed as a result of family violence.

Additionally, statistics as recent as June 2015 collected by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse outline that in 2012, 32% of deaths were caused by family members; in 2014, 40% of homicides of victims under 20 were under five; and in 2014, 50% of domestic homicides were parent offenders. There is no denying that this issue is present. What is up for debate is whether we handling it adequately.

In the cases involving Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins, the children became homicide victims through brutal domestic assault. This undoubtedly shocked our community and exposed the dark truth which occurs behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, the shock of these assaults did not procure change in the area of child abuse.. On the 10th of August 2015, three year old boy Moko Rangitoheriri died in the Taupo Hospital. Moko and his sister was left in the care of Tania Shailer and David William Haerewa, whilst his mother was in Auckland Starship with another child. It was planned to be a short time. However, during that short time he was brutally assaulted in by his ‘caregivers’. His injuries included; starvation, internal bleeding, septic shock, facial swelling and swelling of the brain.

Behind the closed doors of the Solicitor-General Una Jagose’s office, Moko’s killers both plead guilty to manslaughter, in spite of the fact that this was supposed to be the first day of a murder trial. As outlined by chief executive of Great Potentials Dame Lesley Max, there are good reasons in some cases to pursue a lower charge: it allows the prosecution to get a “full, detailed confession and [then] a conviction.” Convicting someone of murder is more difficult.

It is possible to argue that this is not our responsibility or even our business. However, this view is certainly not shared by the thousands that gathered on the 22nd of May in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Nelson, Oamuru, Whangarei and Papamoa, this year. The ‘March for Moko’ campaign involved the peaceful protest of New Zealanders against child abuse and the judicial decision of Moko’s killers. Protestors heard from speakers such as Labour MP Jacinda Arden, Maori Party MP Marama Fox and front man of the ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign, Vic Tamati.

These marches symbolised a national united front against our nation’s consistently high domestic violence rates. They were a powerful and significant voice to be heard by the our government. However, the question remains: “where to from here?” There have been various lines of recommendations both internal and external to Government systems.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar suggests that plea bargaining has become an issue in the justice system and perhaps focus needs to shift to predictive risk categories. Furthermore, spokesperson Scott Guthrie suggests that Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae initiates a Royal Commission inquiry into Moko’s death. Canterbury University law Professor Chris Gallavin has even suggested that the Law Commission needs to invoke a review on homicide laws. Such a review might include different degrees of murder, as seen in overseas jurisdictions. Arguably, by implementing different degrees of murder, cases like Moko’s will not fall through legislative gaps.

Green Party spokesperson for Social Development Jan Logie, has suggested that although discussion on legislative reform is to be encouraged, more needs to be done in relation to funding family violence services. For example, of 20 organisations surveyed, more than half of them have been forced to cut services due to lack of funding. Therefore, the $1.2 billion per annum spent on these services may need to be redistributed or perhaps increased. However, this may be a long and difficult process, which could result in other social areas lacking.

Alternatively, Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock has suggested focusing on the next generation in order to prevent “producing other adults who might end up doing such horrific things to children in the future.” Similarly, NZ Herald journalist Alan Duff has stated that education is the way forward. Duff recommends that Duffy Books in Homes trustees issue families free parenting books which instil from a young age that violence is unacceptable. Furthermore, he recommends a more extreme cultural shift which would see changes to the Maori kapa haka syllabus and inspiration from the Chinese family values. However, this could be perceived as culturally insensitive and perhaps not produce the degree of change needed.

Nonetheless, it is apparent most would agree that New Zealand’s domestic violence statistics are horrific and unacceptable. Something needs to be done in order to see justice for three year old Moko and to prevent such a crime occurring again. We cannot turn a blind eye because these are our children and our future. We need change now, whether it is internal or external to government systems. For now, what we can do is train our own children to stand up to domestic violence and continue to put pressure on the government for law reform. As for Moko, his killers are due to be sentenced on the 27 June.

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