Equal Protection of Children Bill Passes Stage 1 in Scottish Parliament

John FinnieLocal MSP John Finnie, Scottish Greens  is delighted that his Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill passed stage one in the Scottish Parliament.

John Finnie said:

“I was originally approached shortly after the last election, in June 2016, by the coalition of children’s charities – Barnardo’s Scotland, NSPCC, Children1st and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s office – to take forward a Bill that would enshrine a simple principle in law;

“That children should have the same legal protection from assault as adults do and I am immensely grateful for their ongoing support and encouragement since then.

“The Scottish Greens believe firmly in equal rights and non-violence. I’m proud that we’re leading the change, and I look forward to this Bill becoming law so that children in Scotland are protected from violence just as they are in dozens of countries across Europe and the world.”

John Finnie received support from many  including local MSP Maree Todd, SNP, Minister for Children and Young People who said:

Maree Todd“The Scottish Government supports removal of the reasonable chastisement defence, and I welcome the committee’s support for the general principles of the bill, as set out in its report. There is a strong rationale for our shared position.

“The name of the defence—reasonable chastisement—is antiquated. At the heart of the defence is the concept that it can sometimes be reasonable to strike a child. That is completely at odds with our aim of Scotland being the best place in the world for children to grow up. We can contribute to that aim by providing children with the same legal protection from assault as adults have. That principle is at the heart of the bill.

“Scotland can be at the forefront in the United Kingdom of providing such protection for children. Removal of the defence will help to deliver the best possible outcomes for children. It will assist them in growing up feeling loved, safe and respected so that they can realise their full potential. Removal of the defence is consistent with international treaties, with best practice in human rights and with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The Bill did not receive support from the Conservatives who see it as ‘doing more harm than good.’ Oliver Mundell MSP, Conservative felt that such a law will criminalise behaviour which is currently lawful.

Oliver Mundell said:

“As I have already said, even the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service which, it can charitably be said, has been reluctant to engage with the bill to date, recognises that challenges will arise when the physical contact is of an extremely minor or trivial nature.

“Indeed, it is almost impossible to know when the Crown Office or Lord Advocate would consider that the public interest test was met. It will be even more difficult to establish when matters are considered to be sufficiently serious for the police to investigate, and it is not at all clear who will make that decision.

“As a parliamentarian, I have deep misgivings about passing legislation in an area as sensitive and controversial as this, and which will give such wide discretion to individual police officers and prosecutors.

“When it comes to legislating in statute to remove centuries-old common-law provisions, there is a duty on Parliament to provide absolute clarity and to set out our intentions, and not simply to make big, bold claims and pass on to others the responsibility for taking difficult and legally complex decisions.

“The failure, in the bill, to set out that clarity is an abdication of responsibility. The bill as drafted is so imprecise that it will fail to improve on the current state of affairs.”

Labour joined Scottish Greens, SNP and LibDems, in supporting the Bill

Rhoda GrantRhoda Grant, local MSP Labour stated:

“I understand that there are differing views about the issue. Who has not had a moment of fright with a child and grabbed them and smacked them? That does not mean that it is right. It takes time and consistency to make time out and other alternatives work, and we all know that parents face competing demands. However, we are the adults. The parents are the adults, and we need to educate society on good parenting skills.”

John Finnie concluded the debate saying:

“We know that young people support the proposed change, as do practitioners: the police, social work, health professionals and legal professionals. The children’s charities support it, along with members of all five parties in the chamber. It is time to give children equal protection.”

The Bill passed with only the Conservatives opposing it. Two SNP MSPs abstained.

The Bill now goes to Stage 2 the committees stage for discussion and evidence taking.

You can watch the whole debate here.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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