Ban smacking!

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

John Finnie, a Green Party member of the Scottish Parliament introduced a Bill (Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill) on 6 September 2018.

This Bill would remove the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in Scotland which permits parents and guardians (primarily) to use smacking as a punishment in relation to children in their care.

The main objective of the Bill is expressed in its accompanying Explanatory Notes:

A person charged with assault of a child will no longer be entitled to claim that a use of physical force was justifiable on the basis that it was physical punishment administered in exercise of a parental right (or a right derived from having care or charge of a child). This will give children the same protection from assault as adults.

The Bill is quite a short one – a mere 5 sections – but if passed into law it is sure to have a very significant effect.

Section 1 contains the actual provision which would abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement

Section 2 places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to raise awareness and understanding of the proposed legislation

Section 3 contains the transitional and saving provision which is essentially interim arrangements for repealing the previous legislation  and gives the Scottish Ministers the power to do anything which would bring the provisions of the new law into force

Section 4 deals with the commencement of the proposed law i.e. the day after it receives Royal Assent

Section 5 contains the short title of the Bill.

The Bill will be debated and scrutinised by other MSPs in the Chamber and in Committee and it is quite possible that amendments or changes will follow. With every Bill, there is also the possibility that it might fall at a particular stage of parliamentary proceedings or, even if passed, could be subject to legal challenge e.g. the Scottish Government’s Children and Young Person’s (Scotland) Act 2014 which the UK Supreme Court found fault with on human rights grounds in 2016 (see The Christian Institute and Others v The Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 51).

A link to the Scottish Parliament’s website where the Bill (as introduced) and its accompanying or supporting documents (which must be submitted) can be found below:

The Bill must, of course, comply with Scotland’s international human rights obligations as contained in the Scotland and Human Rights Acts (of 1998); and it must be within the “legislative competence” of the Scottish Parliament as per the Scotland Acts of 1998 (which the Presiding Officer, Ken McIntosh MSP has indeed confirmed).

The Bill is also subject to a Financial Memorandum. This can be summed up as a cost analysis to the Scottish Administration:

The Bill does not create a new offence; rather, it removes the defence of reasonable chastisement for the assault of a child. Thus, once the Bill is in force, some prosecutions may proceed as a result of the Bill which may not have proceeded when the defence was available. The Bill may also lead to additional cases of lower level physical punishment being reported, and prosecuted, which are currently not reported due to the defence being available.

Accordingly, the Bill can be expected to have some impact and costs on the criminal justice system.” [author’s emphasis]

Progress so far

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament gave its unanimous backing to the Bill (as as has the Scottish Government).

In support of his Bill, Mr Finnie has emphasised that 54 countries around the world have removed the right from parents and guardians to use physical chastisement as a method of disciplining children. His contention is that, if the Bill is adopted, it would bring Scotland into line with other developed countries.

In order to become a new Scottish law, the Bill, of course, must pass through all (3) legislative stages of Scottish parliamentary procedure.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 of proceedings. Please see the diagram below taken from the Scottish Parliament’s website which tracks the current progress of the Bill (as of today – Tuesday 28 May 2019):

In a previous Blog (Private Members’ Bills published on 29 April 2019), I drew attention to the fact that backbench members of the Scottish Parliament have a much greater ability to introduce Bills (and ultimately get them onto the Statute Book) when compared to their counterparts sitting in the House of Commons at Westminster. The term backbench or private member is a description which covers any MP or MSP who is piloting a Bill through Parliament which is not a Government Bill.

A link to an article on Mr Finnie’s Bill can be found below:

MSPs to discuss smacking ban bill in parliament debate


The Bill has now proceeded to Stage 2 of the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament as the infographic displayed below demonstrates:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 28 May and 13 June 2019

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A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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