Challenge to Child Smacking Laws

The NI Children’s Commissioner has applied for a judicial review into proposed new legislation about physically punishing children. New laws will make it illegal for a parent/guardian to hit a child only if it results in lasting harm or marks. Commissioner Barney McNeany said the government was failing in its duties to promote and protect children’s rights.

However, Mary Russell from the Family Education Trust said the decision should be left to parents. “We are in fact talking about rearing and disciplining children,” she said.

“In that realm, I am afraid that the offices of the children’s commissioner are no more experienced, no wiser and no better at it than the next man. Their opinions on it must remain exactly that, opinions. They must never be brought in as legislation.”

The commissioner’s legal move is being supported by a number of charities and organisations.

The legislation is already in force in England and Wales.

Mr McNeaney said he believed the legislation would effectively mean children could continue to be assaulted by their parents. His office has lodged papers with the High Court, and a judge will decide whether to grant permission for a judicial review at a hearing next Tuesday.

The Children’s Law Centre, Save the Children and the Parents Advice Centre have issued a joint statement welcoming the legal action. The organisations said children were entitled to be protected from any form of violence on an equal footing with adults.