Smacking laws in Scotland: current regulations, proposed changes and how the rest of the UK matches up

Scotland could set the bar for countries in the UK by making it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children.

Do you agree with the proposed ban? (Photo: Shutterstock)

With current laws protecting parents and carers from criminal charges for smacking their child, the new legislation would see children being given the same protection from assault that adults currently do.

What would the new laws be?

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The change in law, originally proposed by Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, will end the defence of reasonable chastisement, which currently protects parents from facing prosecution for using physical punishment on their children.

The definition of physical punishment (also sometimes referred to as corporal punishment) is the same that is used by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in the bill.

It includes:

- Smacking, with a hand or an implement

- Slapping

- Kicking

- Shaking or throwing

- Scratching

- Pinching

- Biting

- Pulling hair

- Boxing ears

- Forcing a child to stay in an uncomfortable position

- Burning

- Scalding

- Forced ingestion

Finnie’s proposal has garnered the support of the Scottish Greens, the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems, with only the Conservative party opposing.

The Scottish Parliament has already voted 80 votes to 29 to pass the bill through its first stage, and it will see its final vote today (Thursday 3 October), with MSPs debating the bill at 2pm today (Thu 3 Oct).

The bill was initially introduced by Finnie on 6 September 2018.

What are the current laws?

In Scotland, the current laws regarding smacking protects parents from being criminalised for smacking their children.

In the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, it states that a court would determine if it was a justifiable assault by looking at the following factors:

- The nature of what was done, the reason for it and the circumstances in which it took place

- Its duration and frequency

- Any effect (whether physical or mental) which it has been shown to have had on the child

- The child’s age

- The child’s personal characteristics at the time the thing was done

The legislation says that that parents are prohibited from:

- Using a blow to the head

- Shaking the child

- Using an implement in the punishment

In practice, this means that parents are generally protected from criminal charges for smacking their children somewhere on the body. However, physical punishments in schools and other educational settings is completely banned.

What are the smacking laws elsewhere in the UK?

In England and Wales, parents can face criminal charges if they hit a child hard enough to leave a mark, cut or scratch, or if it causes bruising or swelling.

Wales is close to an outright ban however, with a bill looking to remove the defence of “reasonable punishment”.

Northern Ireland also has similar laws to England and Wales regarding smacking.