(197)  Smacking kids

From our family law correspondent, Lilian Edwards:

This perennial chestnut rolls on. Following the ECHR case of A v UK 1998 Fam LR 118, [1998] EHRLR 82, where the UK had its wrists slapped for allowing a 9-year old boy to be savagely beaten by his step uncle without a successful subsequent prosecution of that assailant; and the Consultation Paper, Physical Punishment of Children in Scotland (February 2000); we now have an actual clause (cl 43) in the Criminal Justice (Sc) Bill 2002, which only ten years late, more or less attempts to implement the recommendation of the Scottish Law Commission formed back in 1992, that no hitting of children with implements (such as sticks and canes), no blows to the head, and no shaking of children, should be allowed as reasonable chastisement. Clause 43 also proposes to give a list of what criteria a court deciding on what is reasonable chastisement should pay attention to, based very much on the judgement in A v UK.

These provisions have been relatively uncontroversial and look likely to go ahead, as of the last Report of the Justice Committee on September 13 2002. The real stushie has been around the proposal to place a total ban on physical punishment of children under 3. Some of the overwhelming public horror at this totalitarian intrusion into the family can be found reflected in the submissions available on the Scottish Parliament website. The main criticisms seem to be that (a) such a law will inevitably criminalise normal, loving parents and (b) such a law would be completely unenforceable. To this non-parent (who clearly does not get a vote) these objections seem mutually contradictory. However on September 13 the government caved in to public pressure and Jim Wallace announced that this part of the Bill (clause 43(3)(a) would be dropped. The right-fearing folk of Scotland can breath easy again, safe in the knowledge that no one is going to stop them hitting children too small to crawl out of the way. Meanwhile, six days later, a report has arrived from the Central Research Unit on Disciplining Children: Research with Parents (Simon Anderson and Lorraine Murray for NFO System Three Social Research, and Julie Brownlie of Stirling University), whose executive summary declares that 80% of parents feel smacking should not be used below a certain age. One wonders how many of those parents found the time to write to the Scottish Parliament. Interestingly, only four in ten parents favoured banning smacking of children under 3, 48% favourd a ban for children under 2, and a majority, 52% favoured banning smacking of children undr 1. Perhaps the Executive should have waited to read the report before entirely junking clause 43(3)(a)?