3 October, 2019 was a memorable day for Scottish children as The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill is designed to give children equal protection from assault to that enjoyed by adults.

The smacking ban was introduced by former police officer and Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie who said that smacking teaches children that "might is right" but a ban would "send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting". It was submitted that physical punishment has a negative effect on children, is an ineffective way of disciplining them and can escalate into physical abuse.

What is currently allowed?

Whilst the Bill has been passed, the Act has not yet come into force. Therefore, as things currently stand under Scots Law, all physical attacks on adults can be treated as assault but children do not have the same protection. An individual accused of assaulting a child can advance a defence of "justifiable assault" or "reasonable chastisement" when they have used physical force as a form of discipline on a child under the age of 16.

But how is 'justifiable' or 'reasonable' defined? The court is required to take into account factors such as the nature of the punishment, its frequency and duration, the age of the child, their characteristics and the mental and physical impact the punishment had on the child. Generally, blows to the head, shaking or the use of an implement are illegal.

Moving forward

Once the Act, which will bring an end to the use of the defence, comes into force parents could face prosecution for the use of any form of physical punishment of their children. Views on the ban will be mixed and seen by some as an unwelcome intrusion into family life - the UK Ministry of Justice has concerns that the ban could be "weaponised" by divorcing parents. However, the move has been well supported by children's charities. Mary Glasgow of Children 1st said that the ban is not intended to "criminalise parents but to bring the law in line with a modern parenting practice".

So will the rest of the UK follow suit? We will simply need to wait and see. Perhaps 'the naughty' step may be making a re-appearance in households all over the country. When I was young, the threat of selling my light up dance mat was usually enough to get me to behave!


Kate Bradbury