“We all want our children to be happy, healthy and to give them the very best start in life. Yet in 2017, we still afford children less protection from assault than adults. It is an anomaly within Scots law which should now be remedied.” (John Finnie MSP)

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill is a members’ bill that was introduced by Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie on 6th September 2018[1], following the lodging of a draft proposal on 11th May 2017, and a final proposal on the 24th October 2017. This proposal received 31 MSP supporters in total from across political parties: 14 SNP, 8 Scottish Labour, 5 Scottish Greens, 3 Liberal Democrats, and 1 Scottish Conservative and Unionist.[2]

This Members’ Bill is for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement. Current legislation dictates that parents may claim ‘reasonable chastisement’ or ‘justifiable assault’ in the context of disciplining their children, but specifically prohibits certain acts of physical punishment (being struck with an implement, being struck on the head, and being violently shaken). It has been remarked by many that this Bill, in addition to being a progressive step forward in how children are treated, will aid in providing legal clarity and consistency.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 within the Scottish Parliament.

John Finnie MSP released a consultation on a proposal for the bill which ran over the summer of 2017 entitled: ‘A proposal for a Bill to give children equal protection from assault by prohibiting the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children’[3].  The consultation received a total of 660 responses, of which 84 were organisational (predominantly third and public sector)[4], and of which 575 responses were individual.

Support for the Bill
A large majority of consultation respondents (75%) were supportive of the proposal, which indicates wide public support in conjunction with the broad support within the parliament. Some of the key arguments in full support of the bill are summarised below:

  • Positive cultural and behavioural changes that this could trigger, such as encouraging gentler forms of discipline and guidance in parenting approaches. Some responses have drawn comparisons between these potential changes and the social benefits that have been seen as a result of abolishing corporal punishment in schools and banning smoking in public spaces.
  • Ending the cycle of violence that often stems from children learning and thinking that violence is on some level acceptable as a result of being hit themselves.
  • It is in line with relevant Scottish Government policies (such as Getting it Right for Every Child) and the Scottish Government’s ambition that Scotland be the best place in the world for children to grow up, and would aid in improving Scotland’s human rights record – by extension, improving the country’s international standing in this area.
  • It is easier to enforce and understand than the current partial ban, gives children equal rights to adults, and ends the current discrimination based on age.

Care Review Response  
Fiona Duncan, Chair of the Independent Root and Branch Care Review responded to the consultation highlighting the specific issues for children in care, and the current inconsistencies in implementation of legislation depending on different household settings, stating:

            “[…]specifically in relation to looked-after children and their carers, the
            current legal framework is unclear and arguably unfair due to some forms of
            physical punishment being legal in some settings such as the home, but not in
            others such as foster, residential or kinship care. Children and young people
            often have several different care placements throughout their journey …
            There must be parity as well as clarity within the law for all children and young
            people and especially those who are looked after, this can be easily
            remedied through the proposals within this Bill.”[5]

Media Coverage
Now that the bill has been formally introduced to The Scottish Parliament it has gained some moderate media coverage, often referred to as the ‘Smacking Ban’ as in this BBC article[6]. Much of the reportage paints the Bill’s passing as being very likely – highlighting support from the SNP, Scottish Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Barnardo’s, a member of Staf, is running an e-petition campaign to maintain public pressure, and ultimately ensure that the Bill is passed through The Scottish Parliament. You can email your MSP through their e-activist campaign page to lobby them to vote for the Bill and secure Equal Protection for children in Scotland.

If you have any thoughts about the Bill, or about policy areas you would like to see Staf covering, please get in touch with Lewis Macleod, Policy and Events Officer, at [email protected] 


[1] Scottish Government (2018) ‘Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill

[2] Scottish Government (2017) ‘Proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill

[3] Scottish Government (2017) ‘Proposed [EPA] Bill Final Consultation’ pg.1

[4] Ibid. pg. 3

[5] Scottish Government (2017) ‘Proposed [EPA] Bill Summary of Consultation Responses’ pg.13

[6] BBC News Scotland (2018) ‘Smacking Ban Bill Published at Holyrood