Helping Scotland with new law to ensure equal protection for children

This post is to say a big “Thank You” to the MSPs (Members of The Scottish Parliament) Equalities and Human Rights Committee for their welcome granted to me. I was honoured to be invited to give evidence on Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill. I welcomed the cross-party approach to legislative scrutiny. The proposed legislation will remove the common law defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of children in Scotland. Wales will be publishing its legislative proposal over the coming days. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the common law defence is of ‘reasonable chastisement’. In 2015, when I was a Senator, I was proud to have championed the change in law in Ireland. I have been working with several other countries, who have a similar rooting of this law in their common law tradition to support them in their respective processes.

Kudos to Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland, NSPCC Scotland, Children 1st and all the amazing civil society organisations, professional bodies and practitioners who have come together to support the repeal of this archaic common law defence. Hope to see #EqualProtection in law soon in Scotland.

My evidence was covered widely – in fact 165 National and local papers across the UK and Ireland reported on it.

Below is the article as it appeared in “The Scotsman”, Scotland’s leading newspaper.

SMACKING BAN WAS ‘LIGHTBULB’ MOMENT IN IRELAND, FORMER SENATOR TELLS MSP’S

The introduction of a ban on smacking children in Ireland was a “lightbulb moment”, a politician behind the move has told MSPs as Scotland considers adopting similar legislation.

Jillian van Turnhout, a former Irish senator, had campaigned to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement in Irish law – which had remained in place following the repeal in 2000 of a law which allowed force to be used against children.

The campaign was a success, leading to the ban being brought in in December 2015.

MSPs in Scotland are currently considering taking similar action which would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law.

“When we changed the law in Ireland, we realised that it was the law catching up with how parents were parenting their children today,” said Ms van Turnhout, speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s equalties and human rights committee yesterday.

“The day I walked into the chamber [in Ireland’s national parliament], I didn’t know if I had a single colleague with me in the change of law.

“But I went in knowing that even if I was the only person who said ‘it is not OK to hit a child’, children in Ireland would know that somebody believed it is not ok for them to be hit.

“Much to my surprise, every single member of the Irish Parliament chose to support the law by not calling for a vote at any stage on it. For me, it was really a collectively powerful moment.”

Ms van Turnhout said the process was not easy, with some members of parliament, as well as some civil society organisations and members of the public, telling her the “time was not right” for a change in the law. She added: “What was fascinating for me, it was really a lightbulb moment – the second we changed our law, the same colleagues looked me in the face without any irony and said: ‘Why didn’t we do this years ago? This makes so much sense’.”

Dr Lucy Reynolds, a consultant paediatrician speaking in support of a ban, said that violence against children had the potential to cause harm in the long-term.

She said: “If you hit children, you are teaching them to expect either to dominate or to be dominated through physical violence and I don’t want our children to be taught that.”

Critics of the proposals say a ban on smacking would be an invasion of family life and could lead to an increase in the number of parents being prosecuted.

 
You can also watch me giving evidence by following this link: Evidence

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”