Official Police data confirms hundreds of parents could be charged with assault under smacking ban
• 1,370 smacking crimes in first five years
• Actual figure likely to be much higher
• Parents and professionals to be ‘blacklisted’ on police database
• Govt Bill removing reasonable chastisement published last month
• Minister responsible admits parents could be “charged with a criminal offence”
• £1 million cost to criminal justice system
Police figures reveal that hundreds of parents in Wales could face criminal charges for smacking their children following the introduction of a smacking ban.
According to Police Liaison Unit (PLU) data, as many as 1,370 new smacking crimes could be recorded in five years if the reasonable chastisement defence is removed. The law currently allows parents to use a light smack and was reviewed just a few years ago.
Official correspondence also implies that thousands more could have their names recorded on the National Law Enforcement database following reports of smacking, potentially ‘blacklisting’ them from working with young people and vulnerable adults.
Campaign group Be Reasonable said the news is confirmation that the Government’s plans will “cause misery to hundreds of families across Wales”.
Jamie Gillies, a spokesperson for the campaign, commented: “The Government keeps claiming that the ban will not criminalise ordinary parents, disingenuously saying that they are not creating a new offence. But they are making a hitherto legal action illegal and no amount of spin can hide this.
“Now these official police figures remove the last fig leaf they were hiding behind. Changing the law will lead to hundreds of ordinary parents being prosecuted, and even when there is no crime, they could still have their name recorded on an official database, that is consulted when people are apply to work with young people and vulnerable adults. In some cases this could prevent them getting a job, even if they are a highly skilled doctor, nurse or teacher.”
The PLU conducted an audit of recorded crimes, which related to the reasonable chastisement defence between 2017 and 2018, after a request by the Welsh Government.
They considered cases where no injury occurred to children and reasonable chastisement was “used as a defence or considered in the decision making process”.
If reasonable chastisement were removed, these incidents, where perhaps only mild physical contact occurred, would be classed as assault.
The official research across the four Police Forces in Wales concluded that there would be 274 new investigations in the first year. This included an estimated 39 in Dyfed-Powys, 56 in Gwent, 57 in North Wales and 122 in South Wales.
Given the experience of New Zealand, which has a similar legal system to Wales, these figures are unlikely to drop after the first year, meaning 1,370 potential offences in the first five years of a smacking ban – with the actual number likely to be much higher.
A letter from Welsh Minister Julie Morgan AM confirms that information about parents who are suspected of smacking, or where the police decide not to take any action will still have their details recorded on the police databse. “…The National Law Enforcement Database (LEDS) will be set up to replace both the existing Police National Database (PND) and Police National Computer (PNC). Currently, conviction information is held on the PNC, and records on non-conviction information (e.g. intelligence, non-statutory out of court disposals such as community resolutions) are held on the PND.”
It goes on: “…Removing the defence of reasonable punishment in Wales does not create a new offence; the offence of common assault already exists in common law across England and Wales, therefore it should be possible to report incidents of common assault against children, either as conviction information (e.g. if a caution has been accepted by the perpetrator) or as non-conviction information.”
Non-conviction information, or “intelligence” includes allegations made against a person that did not result in any arrest being made, and concerns passed on to the police from other public bodies (i.e. schools or social services).
Jamie continued: “It is time for the Welsh Government to come clean. Under their proposals ordinary parents will face criminal charges for something as reasonable as giving a child a light smack, or picking up your toddler from a shop floor while having a tantrum. Even if they are later found to be innocent they could still have their name recorded on a State database.
“This could then show up on a DBS checks potentially leading to a parent losing their employment, particularly if they work in the public sector. This would bring misery to hundreds of families across Wales and affect the welfare of children who need a peaceful home environment and economic stability.
“The Government must answer 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.”
Previously the former Communities and Children Secretary Carl Sargent said: “Let’s be very clear here: this isn’t about legislation to criminalise parents. What we want to do here is give people the opportunity to have positive parenting experiences.” Welsh Assembly Record of Proceedings, 22 June 2016.
However, when the Government published its Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill last month, Julie Morgan AM reluctantly admitted that it could lead to parents being “charged with a criminal offence” for actions which are now perfectly lawful.
The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum makes clear that a smacking ban would have huge implications including a burden of £3.312m for the taxpayer. This includes nearly a million pounds (£980K) in extra policing, Court and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) costs.
The report also acknowledges a number of significant unknown costs, including additional referrals to social services, potentially higher volume of requests to the CPS, for charging
advice from the police and “Family courts and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
(Cafcass) Cymru, as a result of a potential increase in allegations of common
assault against a child or children of parents involved in a family court case.”
The report goes on: “There is no precedent in the UK for removal of the defence, and there is limited relevant data from other countries to indicate the likely increase in referrals, or in cases which are prosecuted through the courts, following the removal of the defence.”
Notes to Editors:
The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots campaign of parents and supportive groups with a single goal: to discourage the Welsh Government from pursuing its pledge to outlaw reasonable chastisement of children by their parents.
• The PLU research was included in Annex 7 the Welsh Government’s Explanatory Memorandum on its Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill, which can be found here: http://www.assembly.wales/laid%20documents/pri-ld12454-em/pri-ld12454-em-e.pdf
• In March 2019, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services Julie Morgan said, “by removing the [reasonable chastisement] defence, some parents who physically punish their children and are subsequently reported to the police or social services may be charged with a criminal offence in circumstances where that would not happen now because there is a defence they can call on”.
• In January 2015, former Children’s Minister Leighton Andrews told the Welsh Assembly: “The effect of amendments 46 to 67 is not only to criminalise smacking, but also any other touching of a child in Wales by a parent for the purpose of administering discipline. The offence of a battery is committed where a person intentionally or recklessly inflicts unlawful violence on another. Any touching of another person, however slight, may amount to a battery. For example, a parent who forcibly lifts a misbehaving child would be guilty of battery.” Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, 22 January 2015, http://www.senedd.assembly.wales/documents/s36001/22%20January%202015.pdf