Be Reasonable welcomes UK Government’s decision to reject calls to criminalise parents who smack

The Be Reasonable Wales campaign has welcomed the “sensible” decision by the UK Government to reject calls to criminalise parents who use reasonable chastisement.

The campaign group hopes today’s announcement will bring an end to attempts to change the law in England – at least until the “dangerous experiment” by the devolved administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh can be fully evaluated. This evaluation must include the impact on the 55 parents – and their families – who were caught by the ban in Wales in the first six months of its operation.

Be Reasonable argued that changing the law in Wales was unnecessary as the existing law was clear and effective, and said the new ban would criminalise ordinary, loving parents.

They highlighted evidence from New Zealand where a ban on smacking had led to hundreds of parents being arrested, prosecuted or separated from their children.

The research from public law specialists Chen Palmer concluded that banning smacking in New Zealand had criminalised ordinary parents. It said claims made by politicians in 2007 that changing the rules would not criminalise “good parents” were wrong in law and “…inconsistent with the legal effect of section 59 and the application of that section in practice.”

It added that Chen Palmer had been unable to find a court decision where the judge had “explicitly balanced the long-term effect of the prosecution or the conviction on the parent-child relationship against the level and frequency of the physical discipline the parent is being charged with”.

In the UK, a Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that between 2009 and the end of 2017 there were just three cases where parents cited “reasonable chastisement” as a legal defence and none were from Wales. It was the repeal of the reasonable chastisement defence that criminalised mild parental smacking.

All of these concerns were dismissed by the Welsh Government during the passage of the legislation. Indeed, a 2018 document, Removing ‘the defence of reasonable punishment’, used as part of the consultation process and quoted by ministers, stated:

“Will this criminalise some parents? We understand this fear. But this hasn’t happened in other countries that changed their law. In New Zealand, the police data shows no rise in reports or in parents being prosecuted for ‘light smacking’.”

In the same year the then First Minister Carwyn Jones (who said he smacked his own children [audio]) said: “It will not criminalise parents.”

However by 2021, they had changed their tune. In the document, Ending physical punishment in Wales: frequently asked questions, it said:

“What should I do if I see a child being physically punished or if I am concerned about a child? If you are concerned that a child is being physically punished you can contact your local social services department. You can also call the police in an emergency or if a child is in danger.” [Emphasis added.]

It went on:

“Changing the law does not of itself criminalise anyone. It is an individual’s actions in relation to the law that may lead them to receiving a criminal record. If an adult physically punishes a child in their care after 21 March 2022 they could be reported to the police. The action the police take will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

“In all cases the police and/or CPS will apply two tests – is there evidence to charge and is it in the public interest to do so.” [Emphasis added]

Scotland’s smacking ban also required people to call the police on parents.

Simon Calvert, a spokesman for the Be Reasonable campaign, commented:

“In Wales, the administration was all over the place on smacking as they tried to sell the policy to a highly sceptical public. The former First Minister, Carwen Jones, even said in a public meeting that he smacked his own children. In the Welsh Parliament the then Children’s Minister admitted that a parent picking up their toddler because they were having a tantrum in a shop would be breaking the law if the reasonable chastisement defence were repealed.

“This made a mockery of the Welsh administration’s repeated claim that the legislation would not criminalise loving parents. Their own impact assessment said the price tag for the ban could top £7.8 million, including nearly a million (£964K) for extra policing. This figure did not include the cost to social services and the family courts, which they admitted was unknown.

“This is why we welcome this sensible decision by the Government in Westminster to reject these ideologically-driven calls to scrap reasonable chastisement.”

Mr Calvert concluded:

“We all want children to be safe and well cared for. But we need solutions that work and which support hard-pressed parents instead of criminalising them.”


Notes to Editors:

The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots coalition of parents, academics and politicians who oppose making reasonable chastisement a criminal offence.

For media enquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07979 016 2225.