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Smacking ban could lead to thousands of investigations, critics claim

A Bill to remove the defence of justifiable assault, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children, is being considered by MSPs.

Critics of the proposed smacking ban argue there will be thousands more parents investigated over assault allegations (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Critics of the proposed smacking ban argue there will be thousands more parents investigated over assault allegations (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Critics of the smacking ban have claimed Police Scotland will have to investigate more than 2,300 allegations of assault against parents if the law is changed.

Campaigners said research from Wales shows that if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed there could be an estimated 1,370 smacking allegations recorded in the first five years.

The Be Reasonable group said the study, carried out by the Police Liaison Unit for the Welsh Government, suggests there could be 2,370 investigations into smacking claims against Scottish parents, accounting for Scotland’s higher population.

A Bill to remove the defence of justifiable assault in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children, is being considered by the Scottish Parliament, with similar legislation going through the Welsh Assembly.

Simon Calvert, a spokesman Be Reasonable, said: “If the Welsh figures are extrapolated to take account of Scotland’s higher population, they show an estimated 2,370 investigations into smacking allegations against Scottish parents in the first five years of a new law.

It is chilling to consider that thousands of parents could face criminal charges for something as reasonable as giving a child a light tap on the back of the legs Simon Calvert, Be Reasonable

“That’s a massive figure. MSPs are living in cloud cuckoo land if they still think parents will not be criminalised by a ban.

“Supporters of the ban must stop misleading the public about the real-world consequences of what they propose.

“Should this Bill become law, it is chilling to consider that thousands of parents could face criminal charges for something as reasonable as giving a child a light tap on the back of the legs.”

In evidence presented to Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee in April, the Crown Office said that if the Bill is enacted, reports from the police on assaults on children as a form of punishment could increase, adding that it would not be unusual for awareness raising and changes in societal attitudes to result in increased reporting.

However, the Crown Office highlighted evidence from places where smacking is banned which it said suggests “such a change did not result in a significant increase in prosecutions”, and stressed each case would be considered on its own facts and circumstances.

Prosecutions would only take place if they were considered to be in the public interest, it added.

MSP John Finnie, who proposed the Bill, said: “This so-called evidence is nothing more than a series of exaggerations and suppositions.

“The physical punishment of children is prohibited in 54 countries with all the evidence showing that there is unlikely to be any increase in prosecutions.

“We know that physical punishment can be harmful to children and that is why my Bill will ensure children in Scotland enjoy the same protection in law as adults.”

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