Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services
The Children (Abolition of the Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill has today been introduced into the National Assembly.
As a government, we have a long-standing commitment to children’s rights, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). We are committed to Wales being a nation where children and children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
The UNCRC, together with other international human rights conventions and declarations, recognise that children have the right to have their dignity and physical integrity respected under the law.
The Children (Abolition of the Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill will seek to protect children’s rights in relation to the duty set out in article 19 of the UNCRC – the right to protection from all forms of violence. In doing so, children in Wales will be offered the same legal protection from physical punishment as adults.
The Bill will remove the common law defence of reasonable punishment so it cannot be used by anyone in Wales, including visitors, as a defence in the event they are accused of assault or battery against a child. The defence currently applies in respect of both criminal and civil law.
If the National Assembly passes this legislation, the Bill will remove the defence under the criminal law in respect of the common law offences of assault and battery and under civil law in respect of the tort of trespass against the person.
This will apply to the actions of parents, carers, guardians and all those adults acting in loco parentis in any unregulated settings, including places of learning, worship, play, leisure, in the home or any other location.
The Bill is intended to help protect children's rights by prohibiting the use of corporal punishment, through the removal of the defence.
The actions, which would or would not constitute physical punishment once the defence is removed have not been set out in the Bill. It applies to any “corporal” or “physical” punishment, defined in the Bill as “any battery of a child or children carried out as a punishment”.
Parents have a wide range of physical interactions with children every day. Removing the defence will not interfere with other principles of the common law, which acknowledge that a parent can intervene physically to keep a child safe from harm or to help with day-to-day activities such as dressing or hygiene and cleanliness, for example.
The exercise of parental authority may also require physical interventions necessary for the purpose of using alternatives to physical punishment, as a means of encouraging positive behaviour and keeping children safe. This would include, for example, carrying a child to a time out area.
Legislating to remove the defence of reasonable punishment was a programme for government commitment, which has been reaffirmed in the national strategy Prosperity for All.
I will make an oral statement about the Bill tomorrow.