Justice has not been done in the Moko case, and his killers should have been charged with murder, the Labour Party says.
Tania Shailer and David William Haerewa weresentenced to 17 years in prison for killing three year-old Moko Rangitoheriri in the High Court at Rotorua today. The couple must serve a minimum of nine years, the highest sentence for the manslaughter of a child.
The pair subjected the boy to three months of abuse while he was in their care before his death in August.
The agreed summary of facts on the court file said Moko was subjected to months of abuse, leaving him with a ruptured bowel and head injury that killed him.
The Crown's decisions in the Moko case, including the decision to accept the manslaughter pleas, were motivated by the need to secure convictions for the killing, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said.
But Labour shadow Attorney-General David Parker said the prosecution should have sought a murder charge, and it should have gone to a jury trial.
"The prosecution made a wrong decision to accept a plea of manslaughter - it was a jury question as to whether these people knew that the injuries they were inflicting were likely to cause death."
Mr Finlayson said the guilty pleas and admitted facts meant the Crown could argue for a sentence which reflected the nature of the crimes committed and without the guilty pleas, the full details of the facts may not have otherwise come to light.
The decision to accept a plea of manslaughter instead of a murder charge was never taken lightly and a robust process was followed, he said.
To prove the legal charge of murder in the case, the Crown would have been required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Moko's fatal injuries were inflicted with murderous intent.
"The Crown was confident that Shailer was the principal offender and most likely directly responsible for Moko's most serious injuries.
"The nature of Mr Haerewa's involvement in Moko's fatal injuries was less clear on the evidence available for trial.
"It was relevant to the likelihood of securing a murder conviction that the injuries Moko suffered were not inevitably fatal. With reasonably prompt medical treatment, he could have been saved."
Mr Finlayson said that in no way reduced the seriousness of the abuse Moko suffered, but it was something the jury would have had to take into account when deciding if Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries.
"If the jury was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries, then neither she nor Mr Haerewa could have been convicted of murder."
Mr Finlayson said there had been significant public interest in the case and numerous statements have been made in the media about the charging of the pair.
He said that was why he had taken the "highly unusual" step of issuing a media statement and answering questions on it.
"It would not have been inadvisable, and may have appeared heartless, simply to use lawyer speak and I recognise the justifiable anguish and concern.
"We live in a country full of very, very caring people and this crime was crying out to heaven for justice and so I can understand that," he told Checkpoint with John Campbell.
He also said the decision to not seek a murder charge was not driven by money.
"Cost was never a determinant in a matter such as this, nor could it be, it would be repugnant to justice, offensive to the dead child if corners were cut on the basis of cost."