The Bill, introduced by John Finnie MSP, would remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” from Scots Law and aims to end the physical punishment of children.
The Committee’s report has concluded that changing the law would bring Scotland into line with its international Human Rights obligations, improve children’s protection, and be a catalyst for a positive change in culture.
The Committee also acknowledged the concerns it heard about the Bill, particularly around ‘criminalising’ parents and parental rights to raise their children according to their own wishes. The Committee does not however believe changing the law would lead to a notable increase in the number of families brought into the criminal justice system. Nor did it find that the right to family life includes a right to hit children.
At present, the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ may be used in assault cases where a parent or carer has hit, smacked or otherwise physically punished a child. As a result, children have fewer legal protections from assault than adults, and cases where it is thought this defence might be claimed have not been regularly considered by the justice system.
Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:
“Removing a legal defence that justifies a parent hitting their child is a watershed moment in Scots law and in changing Scotland’s culture.
Ms Maguire added:
“It’s over three decades since all physical punishment was ended in classrooms, and it’s now time to end it at home as well. This law will ensure our children are legally protected from assault in the same way as adults.
“This Bill has a very clear message about what is acceptable to parents, public services, and children.
“The majority of our Committee Members believe this move will change Scotland for the better.”
The Committee was also persuaded by the experience of countries such as Ireland and New Zealand, where similar legal changes have been introduced successfully, without a notable increase in prosecutions.
While taking evidence, the Committee heard from as wide a range of interested groups as possible, often outwith the formal setting of the Parliament. This engagement work included:
• Meeting young people, parents, grandparents and carers at community groups in Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Midlothian and Skye.
• Meeting with school pupils in Skye, as well as receiving the views of over 300 pupils from across Scotland.
• A Question and Answer session, as well as a formal meeting of the Committee with faith groups in Portree, Skye.
Five of the seven MSPs on the Committee backed the general principles of the Bill. They were: Ruth Maguire MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Mary Fee MSP, Fulton McGregor MSP and Gail Ross MSP.
The two Members who dissented from the report were Oliver Mundell MSP and Annie Wells MSP. Their Minority Statement can be read at Annex A of the report.
Information about the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill can be read here.