CAMPAIGNERS have warned that Police Scotland face investigating thousands of cases against parents if a ban on smacking is brought in.

Critics have said research from Wales shows that if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed there could be an estimated 1,370 smacking allegations recorded in the first five years.

The Be Reasonable group said that if the figures produced by the Police Liaison Unit for the Welsh Government,  are extrapolated to take account of Scotland’s higher population, that would lead to an estimated 2370 investigations into smacking allegations against Scottish parents in the first five years of a new law.

Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “That’s a massive figure. MSPs are living in cloud cuckoo land if they still think parents will not be criminalised by a ban," he said.
“Supporters of the ban must stop misleading the public about the real world consequences of what they propose.”

MSPs have been taking evidence  on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which would remove the defence of "justifiable assault" in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

A public consultation on the issue in 2017 received more than 650 responses, with about 75% being in favour of the ban.

Police Scotland has previously warned MSPs that a smacking ban could result in increased costs to the force as officers spend more time investigating allegations against parents.

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The police has also raised concerns that the ban, proposed by Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie with Scottish Government backing, could interfere with family life.

The force’s concerns were contained in a document submitted to Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee which is examining the proposed legislation.

The document said: “Police Scotland envisages that the repeal of the defence provided by Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 will result in an increase in reporting.

"This will have potential cost/resource implications for Police Scotland and partner agencies.”

It adds: “On occasions, it may be assessed that the harm is not, nor is likely to be significant following a report of what is commonly referred to as ‘chastisement’.

“Notwithstanding, there would be a duty on the Police to investigate any assault on a child and, if a sufficiency of evidence exists, report the circumstances to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

According to Be Reasonable,  the Welsh Government asked their country’s Police Liaison Unit (PLU) to carry out research into recorded crimes between 2017 and 2018 which related to the reasonable chastisement defence.

They considered cases where no injury occurred to children and reasonable chastisement was “used as a defence or considered in the decision making process”.

The campaigners say that if the reasonable chastisement defence is abolished these incidents, where perhaps only mild physical contact occurred, would be classed as assault for the first time.

The Welsh research found that 1370 new smacking crimes could be recorded in Wales in the first five years of a new law.

Be Reasonable said that official correspondence also implies that thousands of people could have their names recorded on a police database following reports of smacking, ‘blacklisting’ them and potentially leading to loss of employment.

Mr Calvert added: "The ban will mean untold misery for huge numbers of ordinary families across the land.”
“We are not scaremongering - just dealing in facts.

“Should this Bill become law, it is chilling to consider that thousands of parents could face criminal charges for something as reasonable as giving a child a light tap on the back of the legs.

“A criminal conviction could destroy a family, and potentially lead to a parent losing their job, particularly if they work in the public sector.

“Currently, police are not actively pursuing reports of reasonable chastisement as assault. But they will have to if the law changes.

“How many social workers, teachers, and members of the public will also report smacking after they become aware that the law has changed?
“That could result in numerous investigations, prosecutions and convictions which are not currently recorded by the police and the courts.”

Under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, Scottish law currently prohibits parents from shaking their child, striking their head and from using an "implement" during punishment.

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But defences of "reasonable chastisement" or "justifiable assault" can be used in court by parents who physically punish their children.

Courts determine whether the punishment is "reasonable" or "justifiable" based on factors such as nature of the punishment inflicted, the circumstances, the physical and mental effect on the child and the child's age.

The new Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill will prohibit the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children.

It will give children equal protection from assault by abolishing the existing defences that parents can use to justify the use of physical force to discipline a child.

Those backing the bill say a wider aim of it is to redefine what is acceptable in terms of how to punish children and encourage other methods of parenting.