Legal protection for children to prevent the use of 'unreasonable and excessive' punishment was proposed by the Executive today.
Deputy First Minister and Justice Minister Jim Wallace said:
"While we believe that parents should have the rights to set the grounds for the discipline of their children, we felt there was a strong need for greater clarification of the law as to what defined 'reasonable' punishment."
The proposals include:
Parents will keep the right to reasonably chastise their children but greater restrictions on what is allowed will be enacted. Although the law in Scotland already protects children from unreasonable chastisement, the Scottish Executive believes further clarification of the law must be added to ensure their safety.
- a total ban on blows to the head, shaking and the use of implements
- a ban on physical punishment of children up to and including the age of two a ban on the use of corporal punishment in childcare centres, by childminders and in non-publicly funded pre-school centres
- Setting out in statute the factors courts must take into account when determining whether punishment was 'reasonable' Parents will set the ground rules for discipline in the home, which will include babysitters and childminders. The change in law will not affect this.
The proposals will require legislation and could be included in the Criminal Justice Bill. A White Paper setting out the measures to be included in the Bill will be published in October for introduction to Parliament early next year. It would be expected to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2002.
Jim Wallace said:
"Courts will have a number of factors they must now take into account when deciding whether punishment was 'reasonable'. These will include the nature and context of the punishment; its duration and frequency; its physical and mental effects and the sex, age and state of health of the child.
"There will also be an absolute ban on blows to the head, shaking and the use of implements. We also propose to ban physical punishment of children up to and including the age of two. Up to this age, it is very doubtful that a child would understand why he or she was being punished and if the child was in any imminent danger it should be possible for an adult to restrain or remove the child from danger rather than punish them.
"In accordance with the overwhelming response by those involved in these services, we propose to ban corporal punishment in childcare centres, by childminders and in private pre-school centres. This is consistent with existing policy for schools and publicly funded pre-school centres and will provide a welcome clarity for their employees.
"These plans reflect views from the recent consultation where more than three quarters of those who responded were clearly in favour of further legal restrictions.
"We want to amend the law to protect children from punishment that is harsh, degrading and completely inappropriate in a decent society and I know this is something the majority of people in Scotland will support."
Nicol Stephen, Deputy Minister for Education, said:
"These proposals recognise both the rights of parents to exercise their parental responsibility and raise their children safely, as well as protecting the rights of children.
"Good parenting is an important and demanding job. It is essential we recognise the rights of parents to exercise their parental responsibility to bring up their children safely, as they think best, without undue interference from the State, at the same time as protecting the rights of children."
The announcement was made today in response to a Written Parliamentary Question by Pauline McNeill MSP.
1. The Scottish Executive's consultation paper Physical Punishment of Children in Scotland was published on 8 February 2000. The full analysis of the consultation responses is available on the Scottish Executive website.
2. In the 1998 case of A v UK, the UK Government accepted in the European Court of Human Rights that English law did not adequately protect children. Scots Law is similar but important differences mean that such a case is less likely to occur in Scotland. Procurators fiscal would normally ask the court to rule that such a severe case could not constitute 'reasonable chastisement'.
3. A pledge to consult on this area of the law was made following the opinion of the European Commission on Human Rights (PN 97/336) and again following the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in September 1998 in the case of A v the United Kingdom.
4. The Scottish Law Commission Report on Family Law recommended in 1992 that corporal punishment using implements such as canes or belts should be banned. This was not implemented in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
News Release: SE3050/2001
06 September 2001