The Government has backed away from plans to introduce a sweeping parenting law covering intellectual and emotional neglect amid widespread criticism of the idea.
Two months ago, Government sources were briefing the national press that there would be a new law criminalising deliberate harm to a child’s “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”. Ministers were being urged on principally by Action for Children and the NSPCC.
But the Westminster Government’s new Serious Crime Bill simply modernises the language of the existing child cruelty law to use the phrase ‘psychological suffering’ – without changing the scope of the law.
The Christian Institute raised concerns about the broad nature of the plans being reported ahead of the Queen’s Speech.
Spokesman Simon Calvert said this week: “We were alarmed by the wide-ranging, imprecise and dangerous proposals, which seemed to originate from a complete misunderstanding of the current law.”
He added, “the Bill bears no resemblance to the sweeping parenting law the Government was originally floating. So we are mightily relieved”.
The Institute said it would be monitoring the progress of the Bill “very closely” as amendments could still be made.
The Government has said it is now aiming to “provide clarity in an important area of law” by making it “absolutely clear” that conduct which causes psychological suffering or injury is covered under current child cruelty laws.
Last week, columnist Libby Purves warned that the children’s charities’ plans for a broad new law could have caught parents with religious beliefs.
Writing in The Times, she commented, “we have a record of insouciant, well-meant legal drafting; and once something is enshrined in law it can cause problems either by reckless enforcement or by palpable unenforceability”
She added, “is it not potentially damaging to ‘intellectual development’ to bring up a child in a strict religious belief that daily contradicts the evolutionary science they learn at school?”