The current law on Smacking Children

At present parents can ‘smack’ or physically chastise a child so long as it is deemed ‘reasonable’.

This defence is not available where the accused is charged with wounding, causing GBH, ABH or cruelty to persons less than 16 years of age. However, its remains available for parents against charges of common assault.

Case law indicates that the following factors will assist in determining whether the punishment in question was reasonable:

  • the nature and context of the defendant’s behaviour;
  • the duration of that behaviour;
  • the physical and mental consequences in respect of the child;
  • the age and personal characteristics of the child;
  • the reasons given by the defendant for administering the punishment.

Why the call for change?

The Association of Educational Psychologists has tabled a motion to the TUC Conference calling for physical punishment to be outlawed. Member of the AEP national executive committee, John Drewicz, will tell the conference in Manchester: “Smacking is harmful to a child’s mental health, it models aggressive behaviour and it says to them that it is OK to use violence.”

Psychologists say there are many better ways of teaching right from wrong.

They argue that physical chastisement also leads to a lower quality of parent-child relationship, poorer mental health in childhood and adulthood, as well as higher levels of aggression in the child and more anti-social behaviour.

The biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, is seconding the motion.

But some campaigners have argued that parents would be criminalised if a smacking ban were to be passed.  It can be argued that parents and carers should have a right to set boundaries for their children to help them to develop good behaviour, and that reasonable chastisement is an important part of this.

Whilst it is largely accepted that children should not be beaten in anger or as part of pre-meditated punishment, if a ban were to come in, it would cover all physical contact.  As such a tap on a child’s hand would be criminalised, and therefore one might question whether a change in the law would go too far.


Zoe Heron is a Chartered Legal Executive Advocate based in our Luton office.