Smacking ban bid may go to Lords at public expense

The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner may persist in her effort to ban smacking in the Province by taking her legal challenge to the House of Lords at the taxpayer’s expense.

Patricia Lewsley, whose initial legal challenges were rejected by both the High Court and the Appeal Court, has stubbornly refused to rule out an appeal to the Lords.

One newspaper has estimated the cost of such a move could be as high as £200,000. Critics say the Commissioner is wasting public money on an issue which is not supported by the public, politicians or the Government.

Several MPs from Northern Ireland have welcomed the fact that the Commissioner’s latest attempt to ban smacking has failed.

They criticised “her waste of public money in pursuit of an ideologically driven legal campaign” and called on her “to cease attempting to criminalise loving, caring parents.”

The Commissioner tried to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to adopt England and Wales’s rules on smacking.

Under this law parents may use ‘reasonable chastisement’ as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child.

In both of her attempts so far judges have ruled that the Secretary of State has made the right decision.

The costs of the first challenge were waived, but it is thought the Commissioner’s office has already racked up a legal bill of £50,000 for the second challenge, which failed last week. A further appeal to the House of Lords would pile on yet more costs.

Commenting after the failure of her appeal, the Commissioner said she “pledged to continue efforts to end the physical punishment of children.”

She said: “I would have been failing in that duty if I had not challenged the Government on this issue.

“My team and I will be examining the detail of the judgment, as there are many issues now to consider.”

The case has been criticised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which accused the Commissioner of spending public money “as if it was water”.

Campaign director Mark Wallace said: “It’s bad enough that the Commissioner is trying to intervene in how parents discipline their children, but spending a fortune on her courtroom crusade is an outrageous waste of money.”

Michelle McIlveen, DUP spokeswoman on children and young people, said: “The purpose of the Children’s Commissioner’s Office in Northern Ireland should be to stand up for the interests of children, not to attempt to make criminals out of parents because of the way they choose to raise their children.”