Scots law allows, in certain circumstances, the physical chastisement of children, but can this ever be justified?

It is widely argued that to permit physical chastisement of children is contrary to international human rights, which prescribe that no-one should be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; and that everyone has the right to respect for his private life.

Scots law gives parents a defence of “justifiable assault” when punishing their child, although they are prohibited from using an “implement” such as a cane or a strap to mete out the punishment; and from shaking their child or striking them on the head.

A public consultation on smacking was launched in May, ahead of draft proposals by John Finnie MSP for legislation prohibiting the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children. The proposed ban on smacking aims to give children protection from assault equal to that afforded to adults. This has been backed by a number of children’s charities, as well as the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.

Last week, Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s new Children’s Commissioner criticised the Scottish Government for failing to support the change in the law at this stage, despite consistent international condemnation. He condemned the country’s attitude towards smacking, as untenable in international human rights’ terms.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that the Scottish Government does not support physical punishment of children, but that they had no plans to introduce legislation in the area. They will, however, consider carefully the Members Bill that they understand John Finnie intends to introduce. It would be a very positive step forward for children in Scotland if the Scottish Government supported John Finnie’s Members Bill. In the meantime we will be monitoring progress of this Bill and will blog once there are any updates, be they positive or negative.