Common sense urged for ‘smacking cases’

The motives and circumstances of parents who leave more than a temporary mark when smacking their child should be taken into account if they are accused of breaking the law, judges have been told.

Although smacking is not illegal, the law was changed in England and Wales in 2004 to remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence for any smack which leaves more than a ‘transitory’ mark. The same law applies in Northern Ireland.

When the law was changed critics pointed out that some children mark more easily than others. They warned that trivial cases could come before the courts where a parent has acted reasonably but cannot make use of the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence.

New rules published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council tell judges that there should be a “substantial reduction in sentence” if a parent unintentionally leaves more than a temporary mark on their child when smacking them.

The guidelines add: “Where not only was the injury neither intended nor foreseen, but was not even reasonably foreseeable, then a discharge might be appropriate.”

Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said, “I am pleased that the guidelines appear to take a common sense approach, but there would be less confusion if the law had not been changed in the first place. The ‘reasonable chastisement’ law is firm enough to protect children and fair enough to protect parents.”

A group of anti-smacking MPs is pushing for a free vote in Parliament on an outright ban on smacking. The Government has said it sees no need to change the law.