Call to end right to silence in child abuse cases

There are growing calls for the right to silence to be stripped from anyone police want to talk to in child abuse investigations.

It comes after yet another awful case made headlines last week. A four-month-old baby was admitted to south Auckland's Middlemore Hospital suffering 16 fractures, which police believe were inflicted over a period of time.

Their investigation is reportedly being hampered by the family's refusal to talk.

Victims advocate Ruth Money and the Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) have called on the Government to change the law.

"We have a disgraceful record in New Zealand and these people are holding their right to silence," Ms Money told The AM Show on Monday.

"They, in essence, are supposed to be the caregiver of the vulnerable - so why are we allowing it? They are enabling it, right. Whether you're doing the abuse, or whether you're enabling the abuse, that should be a crime."

Ruth Money.
Ruth Money. Photo credit: The AM Show

The SST agrees that anyone who refuses to talk should be charged.

"All too often we hear the words the right to silence, when it comes to children being violently beaten and tortured," said spokesman Scott Guthrie. "There should be no right to silence."

The child in the latest case is expected to survive, despite fractures to her skull, ribs, arms and legs. She is now in custody of Oranga Tamariki.

"There is absolutely no reason why you would hit them once, let alone prolonged over 16 weeks," said Ms Money.

Even if no one speaks up, Ms Money said it shouldn't be hard to work out who probably carried out the abuse.

"Most of them are male, most of them are known to the under five-year-olds. We've got all the data."

National leader Simon Bridges said he's open to the idea, but cautious about the implications.

"The other side of it is that old saying that it's better nine guilty go free than one innocent is convicted. So you've got to work it out."

He said it's common for defence teams in the UK to be given all the prosecution's evidence "on a plate" and then concoct a "cockamamie story" to argue for their clients' innocence.

"Juries... should be able to draw inferences."


Since 1994, that has been allowed. But in New Zealand, the Evidence Act 2006 prohibits juries from drawing any inferences from a defendant's silence.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ms Money said the present Government is "pro-victims", so has hope MPs will listen.

"If you hear screaming next door, there are systems in place. It's anonymous. Make the phone call."

The number for Oranga Tamariki is 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459). In an emergency, call 111.