THE Children’s Commissioner has lost her appeal against laws allowing parents to smack their kids as a disciplinary measure. The case was apparently lost because the Commissioner herself is not a victim – though surely she could have found one child from the hundreds of thousands in Northern Ireland – and the taxpayer will foot her hefty legal bill. The Commissioner’s case was for an outright ban on physical punishment, effectively criminalising reasonable chastisement and the countless parents who responsibly employ it every day. No slaps on the wrist. No kick up the arse. Nada. Yes, there’s the old ‘where do you draw the line’ argument – but this was not the Commissioner’s concern. She wanted an all-out ban or nothing. She got ‘nothing’. Her lawyer compared smacking to an electric fence used to keep animals in a field, as though that was always a bad thing. Sometimes there’s a motorway or cliff on the other side. And when the judge suggested that a smack could calm a child throwing a tantrum because it was being put into a car seat for its own safety, this was rejected as “illegitimate”. Physical punishment, she argued, had a “negative psychological” impact, as the child would feel shame… although this may be the point, and surely even non-physical punishment must have “negative” connotations too?
As the BBC reported last October in the last failed attempt at Westminster to ban smacking: “The last attempt to impose a full ban on smacking was defeated in 2004, although 49 Labour MPs rebelled. A compromise was agreed, tightening the law by outlawing punishment which left physical marks or caused mental harm.”
So a reasonable compromise in law had already been reached. What, exactly, could a new law have achieved, apart from a rise in the Children’s Commissioner’s salary?
If Patricia Lewsley had got her way, a handful of real child abusers might indeed have faced punishment. They would have been handed concurrent sentences to run alongside the one for assault or GBH (making zero difference to time served). In addition, more ordinary parents would be criminals, and some children who knew they could now get away with stepping outside boundaries would be facing danger or even death.
Lewsley is determined to waste yet more money on this case that she is unlikely to win – particularly if it continues to be argued so badly and if she cannot find a single victim from the half million children she claims to represent.
Isn’t it time someone sent Ms Lewsley to the naughty step? Or does that have too many negative psychological connotations that might impact on her child-like demands to get her own way, no matter how unreasonable?