Moko: Never let go the rage

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS -

The case of Moko Ran­gi­to­heriri has rightly led to street protests and harsh ar­gu­ment about the treat­ment of his killers. The tor­ture and death of the three­year-old is an­other un­speak­able ad­di­tion to our shame­ful record of child abuse. If we didn’t ex­press rage and an­guish about this we would be morally lost.

Pro­test­ers were an­gry that Ta­nia Shailer and David Haerewa did not face murder charges, and on the face of it the lesser charge of man­slaugh­ter seems grossly in­ad­e­quate. The treat­ment of poor Moko is in­de­scrib­able and in­de­fen­si­ble: how could the charge be any­thing less than the most serious one in the book?

In fact, there is a prag­matic case for the Crown’s de­ci­sion to go with man­slaugh­ter, as At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris Fin­layson ex­plains ‘‘in words of one syl­la­ble’’. The ac­tual sen­tences, af­ter all, were very serious, de­spite the noise by the hard-liner brigade. The pair got 17 years’ jail, with a min­i­mum non­pa­role pe­riod of nine.

Prose­cu­tors feared that a murder charge wouldn’t stick, and that one or the other might then walk free. Again, this is not an ir­ra­tional fear.

Crit­ics of the Crown’s de­ci­sion should think about how ou­traged they would be if the murder charges had led to ac­quit­tals.

Some ex­pe­ri­enced lawyers, such as Massey Univer­sity’s Chris Gallavin, ar­gue that such a mishap was un­likely and the charge should have been murder. But the risk remains; Labour’s David Parker stops short of say­ing there was ‘‘no chance’’ the two could have been found not guilty.

The deeper de­bate is whether the law should be changed to stop such an in­jus­tice re­cur­ring. At present the law seems too blunt an in­stru­ment, forc­ing prose­cu­tors to choose be­tween ‘‘murder’’ and ‘‘man­slaugh­ter’’ when the case won’t eas­ily fit into ei­ther.

Gallavin ar­gues for a sys­tem like the Amer­i­can one, where there is a slid­ing scale of cul­pa­ble homi­cide charges rang­ing from first de­gree murder to third de­gree man­slaugh­ter. Although Auck­land le­gal aca­demic Bill Hodge, an Amer­i­can, says the US courts are swamped by ap­peals from peo­ple try­ing to down­grade their con­vic­tions. That is an ar­gu­ment that we need to have, and it must be long and serious.

In the mean­time, there are other lessons to draw. The real value of the protest is to un­der­line once again that child abuse is never ac­cept­able and that the peo­ple will not tol­er­ate it. The more widely that is felt, the less chance of a re­peat.

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