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Judicial CP - April 1913

Corpun file 24320 at

The Dominion, Wellington, 23 April 1913, p.3

[Letters to the editor]

The Juvenile Court.


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As the Minister for Marine has held an inquiry into the alleged flogging on the Amokura, I would like to respectfully suggest that the Minister for Justice should likewise have an investigation into the floggings (euphemistically known as "birching") administered by order of the Juvenile Court, and into the working of that tribunal.

The Juvenile Offenders Act directs that when corporal punishment is meted out, strokes shall be applied with a "birch rod." Well, sir, a birch rod is not used; no doubt the instrument of punishment (a blood-curdling one to look at) was a rod originally, but it has been purposely split for about half its length into a number of tails, and is there bound with cord to 'prevent it splitting' further, the tails being bound also at the ends. The result of this is, that when a boy is ordered, say, six strokes, he really receives a number of stripes equal to six multiplied by the number of tails. I know the case of a boy who was beaten so severely that his screams could be heard from the closed cell behind the watch-house (where the "birching" was inflicted) to the other side of Lambton Quay. When examined at his home, the boy's back and loins were found to be literally covered with purple stripes, and where the bound tail ends met over his hip, there was a contused-looking bruise which remained plainly discernible sixteen days afterwards; a member of the Legislative Council saw the bruise nine days after its infliction.

The Juvenile Offenders Act further enacts that where birching is ordered, the parents or guardians may, if they so choose, witness the punishment, but they are not informed of this right by the Court. The Act should be amended to make it obligatory on the Court to do this.

Now for another phase of the Juvenile Court: An officer of the Labour Department has, I understand, been visiting some of the large centres of the Dominion inquiring, among other things, into the scarcity of boy labour. Let him try Wereroa, Stoke, Burnham, Caversham, and other sites of boy-reformatories. At Wereroa alone, there are about two hundred and fifty (250) boys, and the Education Departmental records can tell how many are at the other places. Now, how is it so many hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of boys out of our small population are in this unfortunate predicament? In my opinion, it is largely the outcome of the methods of the Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court was instituted with the best of intentions; but in secret tribunals abuses will creep in. Evidence is there tendered which would never bear the light of day -- the evidence of infants from five to eleven years of age, who afterwards, when relieved from the hypnotism of the blue uniform, have in some instances told quite an opposite story (as in the case of the boy referred to). It is monstrous that respectable, law-abiding citizens should have their children unmercifully scourged and taken from them [...]

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