The Welsh Assembly has passed legislation to ban parents from smacking their children, following the lead of the Scottish parliament which passed similar legislation in 2019. The law, which is due to come into effect in 2022, may have a serious impact on both day to day family life, and may also have implications for disclosure checks in the future.
Divergence from English Law
Although Wales and England are different countries within the United Kingdom, until this legislation passed through the Welsh Assembly, there was no difference in law between England and Wales. This is a separate situation to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where there are considerable differences and where the legal systems are entirely separate. There have been several concerns raised about Wales diverging from English law. The main concern raised has been around disclosure checks, also known as DBS checks. The new law means that someone could potentially commit a crime in Wales for doing something which isn’t a crime on the other side of the Severn Bridge, and this could be disclosed when they apply for a basic, standard or enhanced disclosure check at a later date.
The Disclosure and Barring Service which covers both England and Wales applies a process of filtering when they decide which convictions and cautions to list on an enhanced disclosure form. Anything more recent, which is not considered spent, is disclosed as a matter of course. A further risk to parents is the possibility of having a malicious report made about them, which is recorded on the police system and then could potentially appear on an enhanced disclosure in the future. Parents accused of smacking their children will not be charged with a new offence; any future prosecution will fall under the banner of common assault and recorded on police systems along with all other assault charges.
Should We Be Worried?
Based on statistics from other countries which have already banned smacking, such as Scotland or New Zealand, prosecutions will run at around 6 or 7 per year. So despite the considerable press interest in the story, the new ban is likely to affect a very small number of families. The Welsh Government are planning a large public information campaign to make everyone aware of the new legislation, in particular those parents crossing the border from England, where the law will be different.
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid falling foul of the law concerning smacking children is not to smack your children. There is a lot of evidence that smacking causes lasting harm and is an ineffective way of parenting. Why risk a prosecution? Parents who are struggling with children of all ages can seek help from a range of charities which can support them with difficult behaviour or offer parenting courses with new tips and techniques. There are no plans to change the current law on smacking in England or Northern Ireland. Legislation in those parts of the UK just state that parents should not use excessive force on their children.