‘Smacking ban would criminalise parents and waste resources’

A proposal to ban parents from smacking their children in Scotland faced a slew of criticism at the weekend.

Media commentators, a legal expert and a senior churchman spoke out, with warnings that such a ban would criminalise good parents and waste police time.

They were responding to Scottish Green MSP John Finnie’s Members’ Bill, which would remove the legal protection allowing parents to smack their children.


James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow, said the main “issue” for parents convicted under an anti-smacking law would be receiving a criminal conviction for assault.

He warned that this would have “consequences for employment and working or volunteering with children or vulnerable adults”.

Founder of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, Revd David Robertson, described the proposal as “completely unnecessary”.

“It’s already against the law to hit a child on the head or to hit with an implement or to shake. This is going to criminalise good parents, just for tapping their child on the hand.”

Wrong focus

In its editorial on Saturday, the Daily Mail stressed that the plan is wrong-headed, saying: “Laws to protect children from abuse already exist.

“Wouldn’t Holyrood be better concentrating scarce resources on using those laws to ensure the safety of genuinely at-risk children, rather than troubling competent parents?”

The proposal even came under fire from Gillian Bowditch, an anti-smacking Sunday Times columnist. She wrote that while: “Smacking may be undesirable, criminalising it is more so”.

Waste of resources

“Social workers are snowed under with cases of children in real danger: the last thing they need is to be deluged with reports of frazzled parents skelping the backsides of their children.

She added that she cannot see the police or the Crown Prosecution Service being “overly enthusiastic about having to arrest, charge and prosecute” the 90 per cent of the population who smack their children.

A negative impact could be anticipated in terms of parents being criminalised

John Finnie

“As for the children, being dragged through the courts, put on the witness stand, pitted against siblings and asked to testify against tearful parents before being returned home and expected to live harmoniously ever after may feel like a more sadistic punishment than the smack that led to it”, she added.


John Finnie MSP launched a consultation on his Members’ Bill last week, whilst strongly denying that the move would criminalise parents.

However, his own consultation document admits that: “A negative impact could be anticipated in terms of parents being criminalised”.

The Scottish Government has said it has “no plans to introduce legislation in the area” but does not support “physical punishment of children” and will consider Finnie’s Bill.