Smacking paper published

A new attempt is being made to clarify and improve the law on the punishment of children in Scotland.

A consultation paper has been published which says the Scottish Executive believes parents should have the right to discipline their children.

But it also seeks views on how grey areas of the law can be cleared up.

The law in Scotland already protects children from “unreasonable chastisement”.

The issue of the smacking of children became the subject of public debate last summer following two high-profile cases.

A Lanarkshire father was found guilty at Hamilton Sheriff Court of assault after smacking his eight-year-old daughter in a dentist’s waiting room in Motherwell, when she refused to have a tooth out.

In June he was admonished by Sheriff Dan Russell, who then ordered the case to be referred to the Children’s Panel.

And in August an Aberdeen father who repeatedly hit his 11-year-old daughter with a leather belt was convicted of assault.

He claimed in court he had used “reasonable chastisement” to punish his child who he suspected was involved in solvent abuse.

However, Sheriff Craig Caldwell told the accused at Aberdeen Sheriff Court that he had been “wholly misguided”.

Consultation areas

The paper sets out the following areas for consultation:

  • Should parents continue to be allowed to use reasonable physical punishment for their children?
  • What factors should the law require the courts to consider when determining “reasonable chastisement”?
  • Should the law make clear that inhuman and degrading physical punishment can never be justified as reasonable chastisement?
  • Are there any forms of punishment which should never be capable of being defended as reasonable (eg. use of implements)?
  • Should people other than parents – relatives and baby-sitters – continue to be able to smack children?
  • Should the ban on corporal punishment in schools be extended to childcare centres, childminders and non-publicly funded pre-school centres?

Justice Minister Jim Wallace said: “The Scottish Executive feels that it would be unacceptable to outlaw all physical punishment of a child by a parent.

“Indeed, previous surveys have shown that the vast majority of people in Scotland support the rights of parents to smack their children.

“We want to amend the law to protect children from punishment that is harsh, degrading and inappropriate in a decent society.

“I know that this is something the vast majority of people in Scotland will also support.

“We must recognise both the rights of parents to exercise their parental responsibility and to bring up children safely, and as they think best, without undue interference from the state, while protecting the rights of children and encouraging non-physical methods of discipline.”

The consultation paper covers devolved matters and it will be for the Scottish Parliament to legislate if necessary.

Equivalent papers are being issued in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.