Fight to change right-to-silence laws after Moko's killing

By Roger Moroney -
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Fighting for to change offender's right to silence: Garth McVicar (left) of the Sensible Sentencing Trust annd Keith Price, former policeman, and a Napier City Councillor. Photo Duncan Brown
Fighting for to change offender's right to silence: Garth McVicar (left) of the Sensible Sentencing Trust annd Keith Price, former policeman, and a Napier City Councillor. Photo Duncan Brown

At the Justice for Moko rally staged in Napier three months ago Napier City Councillor and former police detective Keith Price drew several bursts of applause during his address to the estimated 1200 crowd - the loudest when he touched on the subject of "silence".

The rally, one of several nationwide and staged by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, took place in the lead-up to the sentencing of David William Haerewa, 43, and Tania Shailer, 26, in the High Court at Rotorua. The trust sparked the rallies in the wake of the Crown withdrawing a charge of murder against the pair and replacing it with a charge of manslaughter.

Three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri was found to have died as the result of "multiple blunt force traumas".

The rally was also staged 10 years after the deaths of the infant Kahui twins who both suffered severe brain injuries, the result of blunt force trauma.

Chris Kahui, the twins' father, would eventually be charged with murdering both boys but after a high-profile trial in the High Court at Auckland a jury took less than one minute to acquit him.

Ten years on, and despite the findings of a Coronial inquest pointing squarely and solely at their father, no one has been held accountable for the deaths of the twins.

Mr Price said he was sickened at child abuse statistics.

"I have been involved in cases of child abuse and it is horrific," he told the Moko Rally gathering.

"It the worst thing that can happen and if this [the Moko case] is not murder then I don't know what is."

He then vented his frustration over the "right to silence" issue which he said had stood in the way of dealing with alleged offenders.

"If a child has injuries you must explain - the right to silence must go out the door," he said, adding he would be fighting to see a change in that law.

Moko Rangitoheriri.
Moko Rangitoheriri.

The large crowd agreed and his comments also struck a chord with trust founder Garth McVicar who determined that the trust would also step in to fight for a law change.

Mr Price subsequently got in touch with Mr McVicar and they discussed creating a legislative change battle plan.

The pair met again yesterday and Mr McVicar said he was confident the public, as they did at the June rally assembly, would also embrace the opportunity to address the right to silence issue.

The current right of people arrested to refrain from making a statement, and to be informed of that right, is contained in the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

One judge who touched upon that during a summing up was reported as saying "The starting point [is] unless an Act of Parliament imposes or authorises the imposition of a duty to the contrary, every citizen has in general a right to refuse to answer questions from anyone, including an official."

"The crowd that day was indicative of how all New Zealanders were thinking," Mr McVicar said.

"There are too many rights for offenders - we have to turn this on its head."

Mr Price said as a front-line officer he had seen many people "hide" behind silence.

"But we are dealing with cases here where children are involved - I don't know how these people can remain silent."

He said the silence issue had "slipped under the radar" within the legislation processes and needed to be addressed.

"We are frustrated by this and powerless - we need to do something to make a difference because the kids deserve it and we have to stand up for them," Mr McVicar said.

He and Mr Price are seeking to gauge public support for a change to the legislation and people are encouraged to make their thoughts known.

If the response was clear-cut they would then launch a public petition and ultimately hope to pull in support from other regions for a change to the laws involving the right to remain silent - particularly in cases where infants and youngsters are victims.

Mr McVicar said the Sensible Sentencing Trust's Facebook site was the best avenue for people to take to declare their support.

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