What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law


8:45 am - January 30th 2012

by Ellie Cumbo    


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“Smacking ban led to riots”, said yesterday’s Mail on Sunday in response to comments by Tottenham MP David Lammy. Despite the outrage, the question virtually absent from the debate was: ‘what smacking ban’?

The MoS goes on helpfully to explain: “previously parents could use ‘reasonable chastisement’, while the new definition prohibits any force that causes ‘reddening of the skin’.”

This is inexcusably wrong on the law: reddening of the skin is in fact the very example provided by the CPS of what is covered by the defence now called “reasonable punishment”.

This is bang-to-rights bad journalism, but as yet no correction has been issued.

What the Children Act 2004 actually did was to outlaw punishment that causes Actual Bodily Harm: serious injury that is “more than transient or trifling”; examples include grazes, cuts, bruises and black eyes.

To be clear, a restoration of the previous law would mean adults could mete out injuries like this to children in their care with near-impunity.

Indeed, the present law came about after a man who regularly beat his stepson with a garden cane from the age of six was acquitted on the “reasonable chastisement” defence.

The boy and his father took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that our law should protect a child from being beaten so hard his legs bore the marks, and, well, the UK got its knuckles rapped.

We can assume that Lammy himself is well aware of what the law really is, since he was a minister in the Labour government that created it. He also makes a point that deserves attention: if many parents believe smacking is automatically illegal, and do not know how else to discipline their children, we have effectively rendered parenting impossible.

But instead of examining how to clarify the law, and to open up discussion of alternative discipline methods, the piece simply reinforces the very error Lammy identifies. This is a sad waste of an opportunity.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that those most at risk from the current confusion are not actually adults, but children themselves. We now require a child to know the definition of ABH before they can even recognise, let alone report, that they are being illegally hurt.

If we value both the right to parent and the right to live free of abuse, we must indeed revisit this law, but in an informed way. Because as every child eventually learns, actions have consequnces.

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About the author
Ellie Cumbo is an occasional contributor, a policy campaigner, feminist activist and Labour party member. She tweets from here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Crime ,Media

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Reader comments


Update: The Today programme just repeated the gross error of fact that causing ‘reddening of the skin’ is illegal. In fact, the CPS prosecution guideline explicitly states that what’s illegal is ‘an injury…other than reddening of the skin’.

Just a jaw-dropping lack of research going on here.

What the Children Act 2004 actually did was to outlaw punishment that causes Actual Bodily Harm: serious injury that is “more than transient or trifling”; examples include grazes, cuts, bruises and black eyes.

To be clear, a restoration of the previous law would mean adults could mete out injuries like this to children with impunity.

Lammy – “we should return to the law as it existed for 150 years before it was changed in 2004″
http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_live_events/a1389861-Live-webchat-with-David-Lammy-MP-on-UK-riots-Tuesday-24th-1pm-2pm

Not sure what’s more disgusting. The call to revert to the previous law, or the idea (pushed by Lammy and his apologists) that concern about parents causing Actual Bodily Harm to their children is some sort of middle-class indulgence.

At this rate, Labour won’t have a single one of its natural supporters left by 2015.

What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law

They’re just quoting David Lammy. Nowhere in that article does the Mail take a view – indeed they finish it by citing two terrible child abuse cases in Lammy’s constituency.

4. the a&e charge nurse

“He also makes a point that deserves attention: if many parents believe smacking is automatically illegal, and do not know how else to discipline their children, we have effectively rendered parenting impossible” – this is tantamount to saying smacking and effective discipline are virtually synonyms – if Lammy really is saying such things then somebody needs to have a quiet word in his ear.

“Update: The Today programme just repeated the gross error ”

And went unchallenged on it by our very own Mr Hundal who was defending Lammey whilst revealing his common bond with Anthony Worrell Thompson ;-)

It strikes me that if there is no smacking ban, then what Lammy’s constituents were complaining about not being able to do in order to discipline their children changes dramatically.

Ellie makes a good point in the OP that there seems to be widespread misunderstanding of the law on this.

But the state seems to want to have it both ways.

On the one hand it charges the parent with the responsibility of bringing up the child to have some kind of moral code (and to punish the parent if the child truants or breaks the law).

On the other, it withdraws the authority from the parent to carry this out as required.

These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice!!!! When the child has no reason to fear any form of punishment the balance of power within the family changes dramatically, as it has in schools.

8. the a&e charge nurse

[7] “These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice!!!!” – if in doubt blame the kids, eh? (terrifying hapless parents with malicious calls to big bruv).

Now back to the reality – this is not the first time a prominent labour politico who happens to be black has put his foot in it over smacking kids.

Paul Boateng was keen to smooth the waters over the smacking issue even though in England one study found “35% of children in a sample of ordinary two parent families had received “severe” physical punishment, defined as the intention or potential to cause injury or psychological damage, use of implements, repeated use, or use over a long period of time. Parents’ views are coloured by their own experiences as children. A study of 11?600 adults showed that 74% of those who had been punched, kicked, or choked by their parents and almost half of those who had been injured more than once did not consider they had been abused”.
http://adc.bmj.com/content/83/3/196.short

9. Chaise Guevara

@ pagar

“These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice”

Well, it’s a good thing that Childline exists, and the parents aren’t going to get in trouble for raising their voice. So I’m not sure what your point is, unless you have some idea of how to prevent people calling Childline with non-actionable complaints.

You know the Doomsday clock which measures, in minutes close to midnight, doom through atomic/nuclear weapons, climate technologies and biological disasters? We could do with one that measures just how much Labour is shifting to the right.

Lammy is an idiot and, similarly, this appeal to supposedly popular right-wing policies is idiocy. What is with so many politicians and their race to the (pre-Victorian reforms) bottom and the obsession with ‘capturing’ the votes of the centre right?

“These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice”

There are essentially two issues here; (1) Parents having a lack of confidence to bring up their children, (2) Parents being ignorant about what the law says, possibly believing the ‘PC gone mad’ type tabloid stories, and as a result being timid.

The second issue is one that could be corrected by a more responsible media and active government efforts to correct the myths. The first issue is a more general one about the support given to parents in bringing up their children. The political tendency to which you belong has spent the past decade acting hysterically against government funded schemes to promote good parenting, and would eliminate schemes such as sure start, regarding it as the ‘nanny state’. It has also been responsible for the spreading of many of the PC gone mad stories and spent ages prior to leveson denying there was a problem with the tabloid media in the UK. Libertarianism = non solutions to non-problems.

@ Planeshift

The political tendency to which you belong has spent the past decade acting hysterically against government funded schemes to promote good parenting, and would eliminate schemes such as sure start, regarding it as the ‘nanny state’.

I make no apology for that.

I think we can all agree that they have been a complete waste of money, can’t we?

The Childline conversation seems to have moved to the previous thread….

“I think we can all agree that they have been a complete waste of money, can’t we?”

Actually no. The Welsh version of sure start (flying start) has recieved excellent evaluation and praise for its work, to such an extent even the Welsh Conservatives support it and think it has been value for money. Whilst I’m not going to pretend to be familiar with the literature on how it has operated elsewhere, I would be suprised if there weren’t several examples of it working well in England as well alongside others of it not working.

There is a difference you see between supporting the principle of something ‘the state should fund support for parents who need help in raising their kids’ and having concerns about how it has been implemented, and thus wanting to improve a scheme, versus the baby bathwater approach libertarians often take.

“These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice!!!!”

evidence please, Pagar. Otherwise folk might just dismiss it as yet more propaganda. (Love the multiple exclamation marks, by the way).

Oh, and might I ask if you have kids yourself, and if so, how have you (thus far) prevented them from rioting/looting/stabbing old ladies for fun/etc…?

Cheers.

Lammy himself said that he wanted to reverse the law away from the 2004 changes that made it an offence to strike your child hard enough to bruise, cut, etc. This isn’t anything to do with the Mail, and everything to do with a Labour MP engaging (shock horror) in blatant populism (and shilling his book, nothing like profiting off of tragedy and misfortune) with local voters to support the rolling back of the rights of children in this country.

Why is it that out of this affair so many Labour supporters have felt the need to try and pervert reality and make out as if it is the media who have made the link between a non existant smacking ban (which does exist, actually) and Lammy through any other means than simply *quoting what he said*.

For some reason, quite a lot of people seem to think smacking is illegal. I thought it might just be stupidity, but maybe this is a lie the tabloids have been spreading?

Anyway, the riots were caused by capitalism. Anyone on the left who won’t say that is just scared.

I blogged pretty much the same thing myself – I promise I didn’t see this until afterwards (I wonder if the auto-links have included it – I’ll go check).

Here’s the link to mine -http://wp.me/pycui-Go – I’ll pop a link to this site as well in my blog

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 17 Chris

“Anyway, the riots were caused by capitalism. Anyone on the left who won’t say that is just scared.”

Scared of what, exactly?

@15 Hi Lee – can you expand on how a smacking ban exists, when you have yourself accepted that only injuries at the level of cuts, grazes etc. are banned? Perhaps we have a very different idea of what a smack is.

As for defending Lammy, in fact I favour a complete ban and so disagree with his views as stated, but he does not in fact misrepresent the law as I can see it in the article; the writer alone does that by claiming that causing reddening of the skin is illegal, which it isn’t.

“These days many parents find themselves threatened with a call to Childline if they so much as raise their voice”

Haha, my Girlfriends six year old threatned to call the police after I said he wasn’t getting a debtime story for being cheeky on Sunday night.

Made me chuckle

Headline: “Why Mail was wrong on the law”

The article seems rather generous on this point, apparently making the somewhat unbelievable assumption that what Mail journalists (and their fellow travellers) lack is an understanding of the law.

Sorry, they want their readers to believe leftists have banned smacking, because that makes them angry and hostile to the left. Meanwhile, in other news, Guardianistas have been conniving with Muslims to ban Christmas.

I’m afraid in their world, the truth is for naive losers.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  2. Julian Rowley

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  3. HazeW

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  4. Hamish Blair

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  5. Alan the Magpie

    “@libcon What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/SkQI5WO5” ABH is illegal, not smacking the skin red.

  6. Panda

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  7. Jane Cross

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  8. Carl Rosman

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  9. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/4cbsokDg

  10. Jonathan Davis

    Great read here, as @EllieCumbo expertly demolishes the myth of the child-smacking 'ban': http://t.co/RJWSTH1s

  11. Aegir Hallmundur

    So @davidlammy is in favour of causing Actual Bodily Harm to children? Since that's all that the law prevents: http://t.co/zJDukCFJ

  12. Ellie Cumbo

    Me at @libcon attempting to stop misrepresentation of smacking law. Which is diff point from whether law is right: http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  13. Jon Collins

    Good explanation by @elliecumbo of what the law on smacking is http://t.co/Jjs4z8mH (clue: most of the media appears to be, er, wrong)

  14. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/MqHXnmOc

  15. Paul Trembath

    Liberal Conspiracy – What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/MqHXnmOc

  16. sunny hundal

    Most of the media have it wrong on the law on smacking (incl Guardian, BBC, Mail) says @EllieCumbo – http://t.co/1nUpOO3d

  17. Paul Bernal

    Most of the media have it wrong on the law on smacking (incl Guardian, BBC, Mail) says @EllieCumbo – http://t.co/1nUpOO3d

  18. Nicolas Redfern

    Most of the media have it wrong on the law on smacking (incl Guardian, BBC, Mail) says @EllieCumbo – http://t.co/1nUpOO3d

  19. Algar Braid

    Do some adults need to revisit ABCs? What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law ….. http://t.co/btJJLftc via @libcon

  20. SFSC

    Good explanation by @elliecumbo of what the law on smacking is http://t.co/Jjs4z8mH (clue: most of the media appears to be, er, wrong)

  21. Race Equality Fdn

    Good explanation by @elliecumbo of what the law on smacking is http://t.co/Jjs4z8mH (clue: most of the media appears to be, er, wrong)

  22. Nicole

    Most of the media have it wrong on the law on smacking (incl Guardian, BBC, Mail) says @EllieCumbo – http://t.co/1nUpOO3d

  23. Abi

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4FQOig1b via @libcon

  24. lukewaterfield

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4FQOig1b via @libcon

  25. Ellie Mae O'Hagan

    Two excellent legal perspectives on David Lammy: http://t.co/oD1X8hdH by @DanielCalder and http://t.co/SiBRZHjL by @EllieCumbo

  26. Dannyboy

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4FQOig1b via @libcon

  27. Gaby Hinsliff

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  28. Martin Paul Hume

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  29. Martin Paul Hume

    “@gabyhinsliff: for parents still confused about law on smacking, @elliecumbo http://t.co/FzbHErRG – ie, you can smack if you want…”

  30. Bathtubgin

    Interestin read RT @libcon: What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/CloRTVhR

  31. paulstpancras

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  32. Andrew Ducker

    There is no child smacking ban. http://t.co/DhYtg9Yb

  33. Conor McBride

    whatever your views on smacking, here's the law MT @gabyhinsliff: about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/L8QeWroT

  34. James Mills

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  35. Andrew Rilstone

    There is no child smacking ban. http://t.co/DhYtg9Yb

  36. Paul Crowley

    Mail: 2004 Children Act banned "reddening of the skin". That's the example of what it doesn't ban. It bans black eyes. http://t.co/76LBDBuF

  37. Melissa Thompson

    Me at @libcon attempting to stop misrepresentation of smacking law. Which is diff point from whether law is right: http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  38. Starfish Quay

    Me at @libcon attempting to stop misrepresentation of smacking law. Which is diff point from whether law is right: http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  39. Phoebe Queen

    Mail: 2004 Children Act banned "reddening of the skin". That's the example of what it doesn't ban. It bans black eyes. http://t.co/76LBDBuF

  40. Itsmotherswork

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  41. Clarrie Maguire

    There is no child smacking ban. http://t.co/DhYtg9Yb

  42. Oracle Law

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/I3WzgjyE via @libcon #law

  43. Alun Harries

    RT @andrewducker: There is no child smacking ban. http://t.co/UHLFKMKx via @problem_chimp

  44. Ros Taylor

    for parents still confused about law on smacking, this is clear via @elliecumbo http://t.co/8lC8iqMo – ie, you can smack if you want…

  45. James

    There is no smacking ban: http://t.co/Yj8zKvRA via @gabyhinsliff @elliecumbo @itsmotherswork

  46. Ellie Cumbo

    @amberelliott There's no smacking ban! http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  47. Claudia Megele

    @amberelliott There's no smacking ban! http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  48. Salma Yaqoob

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j You just can't cause GBH to a kid #MailWrongAgain #Lammy

  49. Salma Yaqoob

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  50. Mehdi Hasan

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  51. Steve Rose

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/FcQCQoIQ via @libcon

  52. valued_opinion

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  53. Tom Wall

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  54. Paul Trembath

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  55. mushroom77

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4FQOig1b via @libcon

  56. Under_Exposed

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/pHjh5jl4 via @zite

  57. Paul Crowley

    @bensixesq The "reddening of the skin" thing is the OPPOSITE of the truth http://t.co/76LBDBuF

  58. suzi smith

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  59. Omar Salem

    @EllieCumbo sets out what the law on child-smacking actually is : http://t.co/wH130Ef8

  60. Peter Savage

    @daily_politics You rpt the Mail & Today falsehood that "reddening of the skin" is illegal this explains the real law http://t.co/AKR3avlH

  61. Amy Wyatt

    Thanks to @elliecumbo for pointing out no smacking ban exists http://t.co/xTTbJ86j Threshold is ActualBodilyHarm- wot does Mail want- – GBH?

  62. Ellie Cumbo

    @SoniaPoulton Sonia, love the rest of your work but this is inaccurate. Causing reddening of the skin IS legal: http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  63. Greg Newton

    What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law http://t.co/HrpwvM2x

  64. Fredrik Walløe

    'What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law' http://t.co/4STZ3c3a <– Writing about #Lammy? Read this first.

  65. Sam hussain

    'What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law' http://t.co/4STZ3c3a <– Writing about #Lammy? Read this first.

  66. Lee Griffin

    Disgustingly even more Labour supporters are playing apologist for David "let people beat their kids" Lammy. http://t.co/cCbuq1PX

  67. David Lammy doesn’t know the law on smacking children « Northernheckler's Blog

    [...] What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law (liberalconspiracy.org) [...]

  68. Ellie Cumbo

    @HelenGoodmanMP Yes- and equally concerning is the misrepresentation of the law that the media's been up to all day http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  69. Ellie Cumbo

    @AdamWagner1 More than I wanted to be! Mainly writing angry tweets, and this: http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  70. Helen Goodman

    @HelenGoodmanMP Yes- and equally concerning is the misrepresentation of the law that the media's been up to all day http://t.co/9MqLwCLw

  71. I smacked my child « Teh's Tales, Ian's Yarns

    [...] What child-smacking ban? Why Mail was wrong on the law (liberalconspiracy.org) [...]

  72. Hannah

    @JamesGrayMP RE: your column today and what the law on smacking actually is http://t.co/16RfU9Rl





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