HM Insights

What will the legal ban on smacking mean for families in Scotland?

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to introduce a ban on parents smacking their children, bringing the country into line with many of our European counterparts.

The legislation removes any doubt that physical discipline is not acceptable, even if it is considered by the parent as reasonable for the chastisement of their child. Conduct covered includes: hitting such as smacking, slapping and smacking with a hand or an implement; kicking; shaking or throwing children; scratching; pinching; biting; pulling hair or boxing ears; forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions; burning; scalding; or forced ingestion.

It is hailed by leading children's charities Children 1st and the NSPCC as progressive in the equalising of children's rights with that of adults against violence committed upon them.

The legislation was passed by 84 to 29 votes. However critics and those who may support it but have concerns, constituted 25% of the votes. A BBC report on the introduction of the ban indicated that polls suggested the majority of Scots were against it.

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Changing social norms

But could it serve as an element of the criminal law's purpose, which is to serve as a deterrent and prompt parents to seek support with alternative methods of communication, discipline and restrictions.

In a report in 2015, Commissioned by Children 1st, Barnardos, NSPCC and The Young Peoples Commissioner Scotland, Professor Sir Michael Marmot of UCL said: "As was the case with smoke-free legislation, public attitudes and social norms will change once legislation is introduced and the benefits are evident. The intention of legal change is not to criminalise parents but to help redefine what is acceptable in how we treat our children – and each other – and what we teach them through our own behaviour.

"Protecting children equally against assault in the law does not lead to prosecutions of parents for ‘trivial smacking’, any more than it leads to prosecution of adults for trivial assaults on other adults. Legal reform to protect all children fully against assault is a simple but fundamental preventative measure. Governments can no longer simply wait until public attitudes towards physical punishment change sufficiently to allow legal change to be ushered in without controversy. They must stand up for the change they purport they want to see."

The legislation removes the defence of reasonable chastisement and is introduced with the aim of changing attitudes. It is hoped, therefore, that resources will be available to support parents utilise alternatives to 'smacking'. However, changing attitudes may take a while and the habits and self-discipline of parents in times of fear and frustration will require a conscious effort.

Get in touch

As experienced family lawyers our team has connections and involvement with third party agents that are invaluable in the supporting family life in Scotland. We are committed to exploring further considerations and utilising resources to educate and support people in adhering to the law.

If you are affected by this issue and would like to discuss your situation with a member of our team, please get in touch.

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