Govt: Child cruelty law will not punish religious parents

The Ministry of Justice has written to The Christian Institute and confirmed that the new Serious Crime Bill will not criminalise religious parents who teach their children biblical principles.

Criminal justice minister Damian Green told the Institute that the Bill, which partly aims to deal with child neglect, would only target “cruelty likely to cause physical or psychological suffering or injury” to children.

Prior to the Bill being announced in the Queen’s Speech, there was widespread concern that the Government could introduce a so-called ‘Cinderella law’ that would criminalise emotional neglect.


Critics, including Times columnist Libby Purves, argued that the anticipated law could have also criminalised religious parents who do not agree with evolutionary science.

When the Serious Crime Bill was published earlier this month, however, it became clear that the Bill simply modernises the language of the existing child cruelty offence to use the term ‘psychological suffering’ – without broadening its scope.

Green told The Institute’s Deputy Director Simon Calvert that the Government is not proposing to “extend criminal liability” beyond psychological harm.

The law

Green said: “I am aware of concerns that the Government’s proposed changes could criminalise parents for teaching their children particular religious tenets, for example, that same sex marriages are wrong.

“I would emphasise that the focus, as now, would be on targeting cruelty likely to cause physical or psychological suffering or injury.”

He added that the law on child cruelty would continue to be interpreted by the courts as it currently is.


“The courts have long held that such suffering or injury must be more than trivial (for example, a slight fright or low level of mental anxiety).

“The Government’s proposed clarification of the law should therefore not affect the way the law operates.”

The full letter from Damian Green to Simon Calvert can be found here.

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