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Children Act (Section 58 Review)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

Today I am publishing the results of the review of section 58 of the Children Act 2004. Section 58 removed the availability of the defence of reasonable punishment from parents and those acting in loco parentis who are charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm, or cruelty to a child.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) said during the passage of the Children Act 2004,

“I can give a clear commitment that two years after clause 56 comes into effect we will review the practical consequences of those changes to the law, and will also seek parents’ views about smacking. We will lay a copy of the results before Parliament”.

The Government have carried out a public consultation, survey of parental opinion, survey of children and young people, and sought additional evidence, in order to meet the commitments of the review. The review found that smacking is becoming a less commonly used form of discipline as more parents recognise that there are more effective and acceptable methods of disciplining children. While many parents say they will not smack, a majority of parents say that smacking should not be banned outright. Many organisations however support legislation to ban smacking. The police have discretion to deal with cases as they consider appropriate, taking into account factors including the evidence available, the public interest and the best interests of the child. The law is clear and section 58 has improved protection for children, but there appears to be a lack of awareness across different audiences about the scope and application of the law.

In response, the Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily. We will also do more to help with positive parenting. We also welcome the bulletin issued by the Crown Prosecution Service to all their staff reminding them of section 58 and where appropriate reminding them to bring it to the attention of courts, juries, and defence lawyers, and recommend that the police take similar action and remind staff of section 58, particularly staff in Child Abuse Investigation Units.

Today I have placed copies of the review report and the supporting evidence in the House Library and online at: www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/section58review. They are also available to Members from the Vote Office.