Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Hard line in store for cyberbullies

Judith Collins believes there should be a specific offence of inciting suicide. Photo / NZPA.
Judith Collins believes there should be a specific offence of inciting suicide. Photo / NZPA.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has indicated the Government will take a hard line in upcoming reforms to deal with cyberbullies, saying they should be prosecuted if their actions result in the suicide of their victim.

The Law Commission is currently considering how to address cyberbullying.

Ms Collins yesterday told the Justice and Electoral Law Commission that while the Government was waiting for its final recommendations, she believed there should be a specific offence of inciting suicide.

That was one of the options the Law Commission included in its issues paper on the matter and the Government has now asked it to fast track its work.

Ms Collins referred to the case of Rotorua teenager Hayley-Ann Fenton, who committed suicide in 2009 after threatening text messages from Elina Tuimalu, the wife of a man Hayley-Ann had been involved with.

Elina was given a nine-month suspended sentence for intimidating Hayley-Ann and earlier this year, Coroner Wallace Bain called for law changes to cover cyberbullying in his findings on Hayley-Ann's death.

Ms Collins said although Tuimalu was prosecuted, sometimes it was important to have specific offences rather than use the more general provisions of the Crimes Act.

She would consider the Law Commission's report before making any decisions and expected there to be different levels of enforcement depending on the scale of bullying.

"But if someone is inciting suicide, that is clearly something, in my view, that would end up in the Crimes Act," Ms Collins said.

She said there were ways of dealing with young people who cyberbullied, including through the Youth Courts.

"I think it's about time we took this seriously. We are talking about kids who are suiciding on this, and we, I think over the years we've gone through phases of not talking about suicide.

"I think we are now wanting to talk about it, and how awful it is - their entire families, all their friends are all devastated by this - this is intergenerational damage that occurs."

She said before the internet age, there were options to deal with bullying by changing schools or expelling bullies.

However, technology now meant it was almost impossible to escape.

- NZ Herald

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