May 18, 2009

Jury told to set aside smacking issues

James Louis Mason says he used reasonable force against his sons to exercise parental control, but the crown’s allegation that he used the force “for the purpose of correction” has led to a jury trial in the Christchurch District Court.

The jury members in the two-day trial were told to put out of their minds the idea that the case is a test of the anti-smacking laws.

Judge Michael Crosbie told the jury panel members they must consider the case neutrally, fairly and impartially, and disregard any media coverage they had seen.

He told them that if they felt they could not act impartially, they should tell him if they were selected for the trial jury.

Mason’s defence counsel, Elizabeth Bulger, told the jury the case was not about the anti-smacking legislation, or their views about parental control.

Her client was entitled to be judged on the basis of the facts that could be presented in court.

Mason, a 50-year-old musician, pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting his sons by lifting their bicycles and forcing them to the ground, and assaulting his elder son by pulling his ear and punching him.

Crown prosecutor Dierdre Elsmore said the incident took place on December 19, 2007, at the Bridge of Remembrance in central Christchurch, when the boys aged four and two-and-a-half were riding their bicycles which were equipped with trainer wheels.

The older boy rode down the ramp, could not operate his brakes and crashed into a railing, hitting his head.

She said Mason got the boys to the flat area at the top of the bridge where he shouted at them. He picked up the bikes and forced them down onto the ground while the boys were still sitting on them.

He then pulled the elder boy’s ear, yelled at him to shut up, and punched him around the eye with a closed fist.

The actions were seen by a woman and her teenage son who would give evidence at the trial. A police officer also came by and spoke to the woman and then spoke to Mason. He said he had hit the big one in the face “and that’s what I do and that lady should mind her own business”.

Mrs Elsmore said the crown case was that none of Mason’s actions were necessary to prevent the children from coming to harm, which was a defence allowed under the legislation. The children were safe at the top of the ramp when the incident happened and the actions were taken to punish them.

“Nothing justifies the use of force for the purposes of correction,” she told the court.