A change in the law to ban smacking in Wales has taken a step further forward.
If implemented, the ban would make Wales the second area of the UK to end the physical punishment of children after the Scottish Government announced its plans to remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child.
The proposed change in the law would see the common law defence of reasonable punishment abolished in relation to corporal
punishment of a child taking place in Wales.
Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services said previously , “If the Bill is enacted, the defence of reasonable punishment will no longer be available within Wales to parents, or those acting in loco parentis, as a defence to a charge of common assault or battery. It will be removed under both criminal and civil law. While corporal punishment has long been banned in schools, children’s homes, local authority foster care and childcare provision, adults acting in loco parentis in non-educational settings, including the home, are able to use the defence of reasonable punishment. So, this Bill removes this loophole.”
A Committee Stage 1 Report has been completed after a public consultation earlier this year, that saw 650 online responses along with several oral evidence sessions.
One such response is specifically identified as being from Wrexham, with Brynteg Village Church quoted as submitting, “It [the Bill] treats child abuse and a loving smack as one and the same thing”.
The majority of respondents, when all categories of respondent are taken together, did not support the general principles of the Bill (390 of the 650 responses; 60%). 36.6% of respondents (238 of the 650 responses) supported the Bill’s general principles, with 3.1% (20 of the 650 responses) being partly in support and 0.3% (2 of the 650 responses) not having a view.
The new report outlines arguments for and against the Bill made by those who took part in the consultation and evidence sessions. “Be Reasonable Wales” referred to the current legal position and told the committee “the defence is well understood”. Jamie Gillies, representing the group, went on to say: “I would just iterate again that the law is clear—we have good law on this already, this debate has been had. The law has been amended as recently as 2004. So, we’ve had this debate, and the law as it’s framed just now strikes the correct balance, which strongly protects children from violence, from abuse but also accepts that very mild, light discipline is appropriate. If we remove the defence altogether, that creates mass uncertainty for the police, for social workers; that line is not there anymore to be drawn.”
In written evidence, the British Association of Social Workers Cymru told the committee: “A total ban on all physical punishment of children is clear and unambiguous, whereas the current defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ is open to interpretation and can create confusion, uncertainty and gives a clear message that children- the most vulnerable members of our society, do not enjoy equal rights to adults”.
One of the main issues cited by individuals responding in a personal capacity and opposing the Bill is that a “smack” is not the same as “child abuse” or “assault”, a view raised by the Brynteg Church.
As usual from such a report there are a range of Recommendations, including:
– That the Welsh Government work with the police, Crown Prosecution Service and relevant UK Government departments to develop, as a matter of priority, a clear pathway to divert cases that would currently be captured under the defence of reasonable punishment away from the criminal justice system, where appropriate and proportionate to do so. Such diversionary schemes should focus on encouraging and supporting parents rather than penalising them
– That the Welsh Government work with the police and relevant UK Government departments to develop, as a matter of priority, clear guidance for police forces in Wales about the recording of information relating to investigation of allegations of the physical punishment of a child(ren)
– That the Welsh Government include planning for increasing awareness of the Bill’s impact on visitors to Wales in the work of the Bill Implementation Group
– That the Welsh Government ensure that, as part of the public awareness campaign accompanying the Bill, clear advice is provided on what people can do ― and who people can speak to ― if they believe they have seen or learned of a child being physically punished/assaulted
Another recommendation speaks of the Welsh Government communication budget if such a Bill does come into law, we were going to cite previous poor local communications as readers will be familiar with. The recommendation notes: “That the Welsh Government provide a more detailed explanation of why the potential annual financial allocation for this Bill’s awareness campaign is only approximately half the spend on the campaign relating to smoking in cars, and two-thirds of the spend on the campaign relating to organ donation (both of which are cited in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum as examples of campaigns which have accompanied legislation).
Delving into that last line it appears the two examples saw huge amounts of money spent on ad campaigns, with the new one possibly being a low 7 figure sum outsourced to a communications company, with £75k’s worth of new Welsh Government staff to oversee things .
– The second hand smoking in cars campaign ran for a total of 2 years and 1 month, from 2012-2015, at a cost of £1.75 million. This included advertising on TV, radio, in the printed media, through a variety of roadshows and events and a website. Messages were also disseminated amongst existing networks including the Flying Start and Families First Coordinators and by the Family Information Service.
– The campaign around the change in law for organ donation in Wales was conducted over the course of a 6 year period and at a total cost of £4.08 million. Communications activity began in 2013 with the vast majority of spend occurring during the period between Royal Assent of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act in 2013 and its coming into force in 2015. The public awareness campaign was comprehensive and messages were cascaded across a wide variety of media channels and through supporting documentation delivered to every household in Wales. During the height of the campaign, awareness levels about the changes taking place to the organ donation system were at 82% (from a baseline of 58%).
It is unclear what the strategy would be in areas of the country where there are common complaints about being able to pick up Welsh TV, ‘local’ radio stations are being merged, newspapers are declining and apparently relevant websites are actively gathering non-geo specific generic internet traffic.
The bill itself goes through more stages before it could become law, and a debate is due next month on if and when it will progress further.
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