Child abuse laws need to be revisited - Quince

By Talisa Kupenga

A criminal law expert says the Crown's justification for accepting a manslaughter plea bargain in the case of Moko Rangitoheriri is a "cop-out". Khylee Quince says although the length of the defendants' sentence is appropriate the only difference in this murder vs manslaughter debate is the label.

 says the Crown is "having its cake and eating it too" with regards to sentencing for the Moko Rangitoheriri case.

"It is legally problematic for you to secure a conviction for one offence and then as Finlayson and The Crown has said to sentence them effectively as if they were convicted of another offence. That is a breach of the rule of law. We live in a democracy we do not live in a dictatorship where the state can tell you they're sentencing you for one crime even though we've convicted you of another, that's inappropriate."

Quince says NZ has the power to change the way child abusers are convicted and they could push for a referendum.

"If you can get away with manslaughter for deliberately inflicting harm on the most vulnerable people in our society, children, and we have no convictions for murder, something's clearly wrong. We either need to lessen the standard of intention required, or we need to have a specifically labelled offence of child homicide."

Attorney General Chris Finlayson said the Crown accepted the manslaughter plea bargain because there was a risk, due to a lack of evidence that the defendants would walk away scot-free. But this raises the question as to why the defence would plead to a lesser charge if they were more likely to escape conviction if the murder charge remained.

Quince says, "If there was a significant risk that they would get away scot-free without any conviction of a homicide whatsoever then as you say defence counsel would have run that risk because that would be the best outcome for their clients. I still think it's a really conservative decision to make because I really think that there is almost no risk that a jury would come back and say at 'well the very least they are guilty of manslaughter'."

In NZ, 47 child abuse cases have seen the perpetrator being charged with manslaughter, New Zealand now needs to decide if a specific charge of child homicide should be created.