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Growing calls for New Zealand's right to silence laws to be urgently changed

There are growing calls for New Zealand’s right to silence laws to be urgently changed.

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It follows the arrest of a woman for obstructing the course of justice around the death of an Auckland baby. Source: 1 NEWS

By Logan Church

It comes following the arrest of a woman for obstructing the course of justice in the unsolved death of 14-month year old Sofia Taueki-Jackson.

Sofia died on 23 May 2020 at her on Flat Bush Road, Clover Park.

The police said key members of Sofia’s immediate whānau were still refusing to assist the investigation team more than six months after Sofia’s death.

“I think they're cowardly, I honestly think it is an absolutely cowardly move,” said Jess McVicar of Sensible Sentencing.

The police could only compel people to speak in very limited situations, McVicar explained, and believed in alleged child abuse cases the right to silence should be abolished.

“Children are the most vulnerable in New Zealand, and our law is not in place to protect them, and it should be.”

Children’s Commissioner, Andrew Becroft, said he could not comment on individual cases, but believed it was “abhorrent” that people might not give evidence or information about what happened to their child.

“Those who have children have a solemn responsibility to provide them with the necessities of life,” he said.

He wanted an investigation completed into what could be done about the right to silence of witnesses of child abuse, and changes made.

“I want it to be a priority for this Government and I will certainly be raising it again with the incoming Minister for Justice.

"What I would like to see is an amendment to the right to silence — I don't want it abolished, but I think those who are witnesses who have seen or know important details, they should be obliged to provide that information to the police."

National Party Justice spokesperson and former Crown prosecutor Simon Bridges said cases like Sofia’s were coming up repeatedly.

“There are far too many cases,” said Bridges.

He referenced the Kahui twins, who died in 2006 after also sustaining head injuries – some family members initially refused to speak with the police.

“The problem at the moment is that if the family clam up and those around the family do the same, police simply don't have the tools or ability to get justice for the child... we really need a new offence here - criminalise the non-disclosure of information in these cases.”

A Government spokesperson told 1 NEWS it was not in favour of abolishing the right to silence, but did not comment on whether it should specifically be abolished in the case of suspected child abuse or killing.