Ashburton Guardian Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. THURSDAY, JUNE 1, 1905. THE PROTECTION OF YOUNG GIRLS.
Public attention was recently directed m an emphatic manner to the present state of the criminal law relating to indecent assaults on young girls by the case m Christohuroh which Mr T, E. Taylor waa instrumental m bringing into publicity. That case was an exceptionally unfortunate one of its kind, terminating as it did m the death after great suffering of the girl concerned, and the indignation which the publication of the circumstances caused, led to an agitation that may possibly result m an amendment of the law being passed by Parliament during the coming session. In our issue of yesterday w« published details of another case of a similar, though milder, kind that occurred m our own midst. En this instance the. publication of the details of the case occurred at the inquest necessitated by the accidental smothering of a five week;* old infant, the child of an unmarried girl. In this case also the mother was under the legal age of consent, being, we understand, fifteen years old last April. The moral and legal offence which the father of the child committed m seducing this young girl, also goes unpunished, and all such offences will, under the same circumstances, continue to go unpunished aa long as the law remains as it is at present. The Criminal Code Act, which is the statute governing this class of offence, enacts by section 195, that the punishment for indecent assault on a girl under twelve years of age shall be seven yeara' imprisonment and a flogging, whether or not the offender had reason to believe that the girl was over twelve, while section 196 enacts that the punishment for an indecent assault on a girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen years shall be five years' imprisonment j but m the latter case, the offender is to be acquitted if he oan convince the jury that he had reason to believe the girl on whom the assault was committed was over sixteen years of age. These provisions are satisfactory as far as they go, but where they lose a portion of their efficacy is m the subsequent qualifying clause which enacts that " no prosecution for this offence shall be commenced more than one month after the commission of the offence." It is this limitation of the time for commencing the prosecution that enabled the offenders, m the two case 3 mentioned above, to escape the punishment which they justly deserve, and it is said that many similar instances occur m this colony every year. The object of the limitation ia, of course, to protect innocent men from conspiracy and blackmail, and it is clear that from this standpoint some reasonable limitation of time within which the information can be laid must be included m the Act. The longer the prosecution is delayed after the offence, the more difficult it becomes to collect evidence bearing on the charge, and this remark applies especially to the evidence m defence of the accused person. Cases are known where false charges of this kind have been brought by girls against innocent men for blackmailing purposes or from malice or from certain other reasons known to medical science, and the number of such cases is sufficiently large to prove the necessity of caution m extending the time limit within which such charges can be made. A charge of indecent assault is one of the easiest to make, and, except under favourable circumstances, one of the most difficult to completely disprove. One can, therefore, readily perceive why the representations that have been made m the past to the Justice Department, urging an extension of the period within which a charge of indecent assault oan be preferred, have not had any effect. This subject is one where the Minister of Justice does well to look before he leaps. Popular feeling, when aroused by some pitiable case such as that which a few weeks ago caused such indignation m Christchuroh, is apt to rush to such extremes as the cold light of reason cannot approve of. In such cases as the two to which reference ha 3 been made, the question is how much gain to the interests of justice would be made by any extension of the maximum period that is within the range of practical possibilities. The fact of the matter is that a groat number of these offences go udpunished, simply because those who are the sufferers from them will not make any accusation against the offenders until they find themselves landed m trouble, and this generally happens at a point of time too distant from the date of the offence to be applicable to the genaral run of euch cases. Even if all this is granted, however, it seems probable that the Justice Department would do well to consider whether it might not bo advisable to concede an extension of the time within whioh informations of the nature indicated can be legally preferred. Fixing the maximum period at one month, may certainly be regarded as erring on the side of over cautiousness, and some extension of that period ought undoubtedly to be granted.