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Smacking ban bill given majority support by Holyrood committee

17 May 2019

The bill to criminalise physical punishment of children has been endorsed by a majority of MSPs on Holyrood’s Equalities & Human Rights Committee in its stage 1 report.

Introduced by Green MSP John Finnie, the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill would remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” from Scots law for any form of physical punishment.

By five votes to two, the committee concludes that changing the law would bring Scotland into line with its international Human Rights obligations, improve children’s protection, and be a catalyst for a positive change in culture. Consrevatives Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells dissented.

The committee acknowledges the concerns it heard in taking evidence about the bill, particularly around "criminalising" parents and parental rights to raise their children according to their own wishes, but does not believe changing the law would lead to a notable increase in the number of families brought into the criminal justice system. Nor did it find that the right to family life includes a right to hit children.

The committee was also persuaded by the experience of countries such as Ireland and New Zealand, where similar legal changes have been introduced successfully, without a notable increase in prosecutions.

Convener Ruth Maguire MSP commented: "Removing a legal defence that justifies a parent hitting their child is a watershed moment in Scots law and in changing Scotland’s culture.

"It’s over three decades since all physical punishment was ended in classrooms, and it’s now time to end it at home as well. This law will ensure our children are legally protected from assault in the same way as adults.

"This bill has a very clear message about what is acceptable to parents, public services, and children. The majority of our committee members believe this move will change Scotland for the better."

In an annex to the report, the dissenting members state their view that the committee has "focused too much on discussing the perceived merits and demerits of physical punishment and by comparison too little time listening to legal experts and exploring more robust and legally sound alternatives to the current proposal".

They conclude: "we are concerned at attempts to compare this change to those in other legal systems. Worryingly when detailed analysis is undertaken, there are significant differences in the legislative approach taken in some of these jurisdictions, as well as vastly different legal cultures and criminal justice processes and systems. We are not satisfied by these arguments and are concerned at the number of witnesses who relied upon such arguments but who were unable to speak in detailed terms about what happens in the other jurisdictions they referenced".

Click here to view the report.

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