Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey may mean well, but he is sadly mistaken

Rapper, author and columnist Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey wrote a thoughtful column in the Daily Record in support of the proposed ban on parental smacking.

No doubt Mr McGarvey means well, but he is sadly mistaken on a number of fronts.

Let’s start with the headline, “Every child has the right to be free from violence in their own home”.

Criminalising parental smacking won’t help children who are suffering genuine abuse. In fact, it will put them in even more danger.

Police officers and social workers have warned that criminalising reasonable parental smacking will overload the system with trivial cases, and cause real cases of child abuse to be missed.

Violence is already outlawed. Any punishment that is immoderate or excessive is already deemed “unjustifiable” and therefore against the law. Current legislation specifically outlaws blows to the head, shaking, or the use of an implement. Parents who break the current law already face up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The smacking ban Bill seeks to remove the ‘reasonable chastisement defence’ from law. This defence only protects parents who may occasionally use the very mildest physical discipline. The Explanatory Notes that detail the defence states: “Such punishment must be moderate and not inspired by vindictiveness”.

It goes on to say: “To secure a conviction for assault the prosecution has to demonstrate mens rea or “criminal intent” on the part of the accused, and this prevents trivial contacts or harmless warning taps being treated as an assault”.

So this is what the reasonable chastisement defence allows – “trivial contacts” and “harmless warning taps”. If the defence is removed “trivial contacts” and “harmless warning taps” would be treated as assault under the law.

Should loving parents really be turned into criminals because they occasionally might decide that a “harmless warning tap” might be best for their child?

And it really can’t be right that a vulnerable child who is genuinely at risk of harm be forced to wait, or even be missed, while police and social workers are forced to investigate trivial cases involving loving parents.

As a retired senior social worker said in her submission to the Scottish Parliament’s call for evidence: “Given the already high case load of police, social services and health visitors, this extra dimension to investigate is going to overload the system, putting children who are genuinely at risk of harm in even more danger of slipping through the net or not being given the level of intervention they require.”

Mr McGarvey says a parent should be able to convey the message of discipline to a child without smacking them. But shouldn’t parents have the freedom to decide how they bring up their own children? Don’t parents know their own children best?

Some parents, such as Mr McGarvey, may choose not to smack, but should those who occasionally choose to use very mild physical discipline really be criminalised for it?