Chief Prosecutor admits that parents will be treated as suspects, if smacking ban goes ahead

• Smacking could become an issue in divorce cases, warns CPS
• Top prosecutor admits he can “foresee real difficulties” with a ban
• Parents tell Assembly Members that the ban is not needed or wanted
• Questions asked over new Welsh Government polling

The Chief Prosecutor has admitted that parents will be treated as suspects, if the smacking ban goes ahead, adding that he can foresee “real difficulties”.

The frank comments were made by Barry Hughes, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Wales, who was giving evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee yesterday.

Asked by the Committee about where the interests of the child would be considered following a ban, Mr Hughes said, “Normally if there were an assault by someone else on a child from outside the family we would tend to take the views of the parents of that child. In circumstances where both the parents are arguably the suspects we probably wouldn’t be asking them, we would find another way…”

Mr Hughes went on to say that he could see problems with how smacking could be weaponised in divorce cases. “I can foresee real difficulties in circumstances where we have parents who are separating, where the children are being used effectively in divorce proceedings for example where we have one parent saying there was a really bad impact on the child, the other saying there was not…”

The Chief Prosecutor also confirmed that visitors to Wales face being arrested and charged if they smack their children even if it is legal in their own country, simply saying “ignorance of the law is no defence”.

The admissions by the Chief Prosecutor echo comments made in a joint submission by groups representing the police (the Welsh Chief Officer Group and All Wales Policing Group), which revealed that children would be removed from their families following a prosecution for smacking.

The submission states: “…in terms of Adverse Childhood Experiences it is our view that the implementation team should consider that in some cases the evidence of a child against their parent would be needed to support and proceed with a prosecution. In these cases, to prevent interference with the prosecution and as part of a safeguarding measure, the child or parent would not be able to reside together.”

The police groups go on to warn that “the impact (emotionally) that the removal of a parent(s) from a family setting may have on the child should not be underestimated.”

Jamie Gillies, a spokesman for the Be Reasonable campaign, commented: “The CPS has confirmed that parents will be treated as suspects and that smacking could become an issue in divorce cases. At the same time, the Welsh Government has failed to answer the question about why the ban is needed, as there has not been a single case in the last 10 years of an abusive parent hiding behind the defence of reasonable chastisement in court when they are prosecuted for assault.”

Earlier in the day, members of the Welsh Assembly heard from a group of parents who criticised the proposed ban. Parents said they didn’t think it was appropriate for the Government to tell loving families how to discipline their children and that it should be targeting resources where they’re actually needed. They added that the current law has excellent provisions to protect children and the change is unnecessary.

Their evidence follows the publication of the results of new polling by the Welsh Government, ‘Public attitudes to physical punishment of children: baseline survey 2018’, which claimed that 58% of people thought smacking was already banned.

Mr Gillies commented: “Government polls on this issue are often skewed in some way to get the answers they want. This research was conducted through face-to-face interviews, but most reputable polling companies don’t use this style of questioning on political issues to avoid people giving the answer they think the pollster wants.

“And even if most of the public did think smacking was outlawed, that is very different from the reality of smacking actually being criminalised. When asked if smacking should be a criminal offence, the vast majority of Welsh adults say no. When will the Government start asking the right questions? Their smacking ban bill will lead to parents being prosecuted for mild physical discipline. The public don’t want that. Professionals don’t need that. It’s time to recognise the cold hard facts of this legislation.”

The Be Reasonable campaign has also written to the Welsh Government, asking them to release the full data tables associated with the poll, which it says is both “good practice” and “aids transparency”. The Campaign goes on to say that those companies and organisations aspiring to be members of the British Polling Council must release this information so why should the requirement on the Government be lower?

The Campaign previously released a graphic collating polling on the ban and questioned why the Government directed journalists to so-called ‘research’ showing 81% of the public opposed smacking, when it would usually have been dismissed as a rogue poll due to its self-selecting and small sample size, and the fact that it differs from other surveys. They asked why the Government ignored its own much larger survey of 1,298 people. This survey carried out as part of the #TalkParenting exercise, found nearly two thirds (64 per cent) think smacking shouldn’t be banned, while only 30 per cent think it should.

Mr Gillies concluded: “The charge sheet against this policy continues to grow day by day. A smacking ban will be costly to introduce, could destroy families in divorce cases, is not wanted by the public and will lead to criminalising ordinary parents. It should be ditched.”