Smacking like electric fence, says NI lawyer

Smacking a child is the equivalent of using an electric fence to control an animal, the Court of Appeal has heard.

The bizarre argument was made by Mary Higgins QC acting for Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner.

The Commissioner, Patricia Lewsley, is attempting to introduce a smacking ban in the Province.

She is challenging a decision made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to bring the law in the Province into line with that operating in England and Wales.

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

But Miss Lewsley believes that smacking is “illegitimate violence”, and her lawyers are appealing to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to back up their case.

Under the Convention children are protected from torture or degrading treatment, and the lawyers are trying to say that smacking falls within that definition.

Miss Higgins argued that smacking a child is “not merely disapproval. It’s actually along the same lines as bringing electric fencing around a patch with horses.”

She said the state should ban all smacking if it knew that there was a “prevalence” of parents using violence well beyond reasonable chastisement.

She was asked whether it would be OK to smack a child throwing a tantrum when being strapped into a car seat, in order to calm them down.

Miss Higgins said that in her view such a situation would constitute “illegitimate violence”.

There are Children’s Commissioners in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. All four want a smacking ban.

But Government research shows that 70 per cent of parents oppose a ban.

An attempt to make smacking unlawful in England and Wales failed last year. Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said at the time that an outright ban “would be the wrong thing to do for children”.