Commentary on Political Economy

Friday, 10 March 2023


Teacher who hit 7-year-old must go back to court in ruling blasted by magistrate

Magistrate Roger Clisdell.
Magistrate Roger Clisdell.

A teacher accused of hitting a seven-year-old student will have her case heard for a second time, despite a local magistrate dismissing the case because he thought this was “a classic case of the insanity that has overtaken society in the 21st century”.

Charges against NSW public school teacher Emma Tiller for hitting the young boy’s hand when she thought he was using building blocks to gesture inappropriately at another child were brought before Magistrate Roger Clisdell last year.

In delivering his judgment, Magistrate Clisdell said the courts see too many people “from a generation who never experienced discipline at school” and declared “shame on the education department” for sacking Ms Tiller.

He found Ms Tiller not guilty of assault causing grievous bodily harm and threw out the case.

But the Supreme Court this week upheld the Director of Public Prosecutions’ appeal for the matter to be reheard in the Queanbeyan Local Court by any other judge.

During the trial, Ms Tiller claimed her actions were a “reflex, and not appropriate.”

She told Magistrate Clisdell she instantly knew she had done the wrong thing, apologised to the student for her actions and reported herself to her superiors.

Magistrate Clisdell said it was unfair Ms Tiller been fired because of the incident, and that the education department had lost “a fantastic primary school teacher, dedicated, organised, well meaning.”

“Gee I wish I could go back and sue all my teachers from primary school,” he said when reading out his judgment.

“This is a classic case of the insanity that has overtaken society in the 21st century. It started in the 1980s when we advised students that they had rights and we took away the control and power of, firstly parents then teachers, then the police, and even the courts.”

Queanbeyan teacher Emma Tiller.
Queanbeyan teacher Emma Tiller.

Magistrate Clisdell illustrated the “insanity” of the treatment of school teachers by recalling an anecdote with a teacher friend who had quit over accusations of sexual assault.

“One of my former school mates who I’m still mates with from boarding school nearly 50 years later was a schoolteacher in primary school, a male, one of those extinct species in primary schools, who was the only male teacher in the school, so whenever there was a discipline problem, he was called in to sort out the class,” he said.

“One day a kid racing across the asphalt slips and falls, he runs over picks up the kid – comforts it, and has a complaint made that he was sexually assaulting the kid. It never went anywhere but he quit. This is what is happening with our world today.”

The child told the court, in a pre-recorded interview, that Ms Tiller “smacked” him as he was packing up blocks, and the smack caused a bruise on his arm.

The boy said Ms Tiller thought he was “doing something very silly”, but he wasn’t. When asked why he thought the teacher believed he was doing something silly he stated he was holding the blocks near the top of his right leg.

The boy said Ms Tiller left a bruise, two photos of which where tended to evidence. He said it was very swollen, quite sore, and it “really hurt” when he tried to stretch it a little bit.

“(The child’s) interview was impressive for the fact that he gave every buzz word available, scared, terrified,” Magistrate Clisdell said.

“What do we have here, we have a child who has behavioural problems in the classroom, a child who was a constant nuisance. We know he's a constant nuisance cause even his school friends were saying, ‘Ooh, you got rid of (Ms Tiller)’.”

The trial also heard evidence from the child’s mother, known as Ms L, who said Ms Tiller had called her the day before the alleged assault to say she had been “picking on” the child because his behaviour in class was “unacceptable.”

“(She said) he was being very talkative, that she was having to call his name repeatedly, that it was getting to the point where she was picking on him, but it wasn’t very nice, and she was finding it hard to (control) herself with him,” Ms L said.

In cross-examination, it was confirmed Ms L took contemporaneous notes of the conversation. This was clarified to mean that she “jotted down on a piece of paper … the words ‘picking on (the child)’”

She also said she found Ms Tiller’s feedback odd, as the child had not presented with behavioural issues in the past.

Magistrate Clisdell said he had “never heard anything as stupid and unbelievable as a teacher ringing a (parent) and saying, ‘I’m picking on your kid’, that did not happen, I don’t accept it for a moment.”

“What I do accept that was probably said, was that either, ‘I don’t want you to be concerned that I’m picking’, or ‘I’m concerned that I might be seen as picking on him because I’m always having to call him out’,” he said.

“We all know the kid that wants attention in the classroom and the fact that he didn‘t play up in kindergarten in first class, just means that he got a little bit older and a little bit more bold when he got into second class. I never got into trouble in kindergarten and first class, did get into trouble in second class.”

The reasons for Magistrate Clisdell’s judgment concluded with a call for all members of the courtroom to read Edward Gibbons ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ – a six-volume set of works which details how religion took down for Roman Empire.

“Guess what, western society is following it chapter and verse 2000 years later. 1600 probably, but close enough,” he said.

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