Children’s Commissioner should be sent to the naughty step…

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?

  • Ho ho ho

    It’s simply unacceptable that this fool can’t be surcharged for her personal incompetence. Perhaps one of our useless, three or four-jobbing MPs could introduce a private member’s bill to that effect?

  • If Ms Lewsley wants an alteration to the law, she should be prepared to foot her own legal fees rather than coercing law-abiding parents into paying for their unjust criminalization. It’s concerning that in a society where crime is spiralling out of control that she would seek to criminalize parents who are simply trying to discipline their children. Wouldn’t feckless parents be a more worthy target for government action?

    Even if smacking is banned, the law would be widely ignored and impossible to police. Parents would be well-advised to simply ignore it.

  • good on her for trying! Parents are only law-abiding as long as the law says they are. The law is however still morally wrong so i hope it changes soon 🙂 violence is wrong against adults or children

  • “violence is wrong against adults or children”

    If ‘violence’ is always wrong, then how does the state hope to even enforce the law? Without a police force to effect physical coercion a state would be totally impotent to govern its citizens.

  • spiritof07

    Patricia Lewsley and McWilliams appear to be locked in a tight race to the bottom of the credibility well. Patricia may just have nosed ahead with this debacle.

    We pay tax to keep this kind of bullshit funded?

  • veritas

    a failed politician now a failed commissioner….

    jobs for the “right” boys and girls it seems…

  • Magee Maverick

    the state has a monopoly on the reasonable use of force, not citizens against other citizens and especially not against children

  • David

    This taxpayer funded little politically correct bully pulpit is in urgent need of abolition.

    Surely this unnecessary drain on the public purse must be one of the first things that should go in whatever public spending cuts there will have to be to cope with the reduced tax revenue as a result of the credit crunch.

  • “the state has a monopoly on the reasonable use of force, not citizens against other citizens”

    What about when that state is evil? Is civic disobedience by violent means ever admissible? Was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising morally licit?

    And if only the state is permitted to use force, then what about self-defence?

  • Harry Flashman

    “the state has a monopoly on the reasonable use of force”

    Really? Since when?

    “not citizens against other citizens”

    Nonsense, free born citizens always have the right to use reasonable force.

    “especially not against children”

    More balderdash, reasonable force used on children is an absolutely basic factor in assuring not only that children grow up to be well adjusted adults but it’s a basic factor in ensuring that children actually survive into adulthood at all.

  • Magee Maverick

    hey i’m saying thats the way things should be not how they are. build a better world and all that. and no citizens don’t have the right to use force even if its reasonable, try hitting someone next time you’re threatened then tell the police and see what happens.

    And I really don’t think that clarifying the law is ever a waste of time or money regardless of how trivial you may percieve the matter to be.

    I just love blog comments 😀 lol

  • Alex S

    Why do we need Commissioners when we have elected representives backed up by the courts, surely if anyone is to decide if we can smack our childern it should be elected representives acting through the Assembley or at Westminister not an un-elected Commissioner acting through the courts, as for Lewslys credability, she should resign

  • willis

    Her credibility with me plummeted after the Movilla intervention. Strangely in that case she was defending the right of a pupil to use force against a teacher.

  • iluvni

    Lewsley deserves a smack as a disciplinary measure.

  • Comrade Stalin

    the state has a monopoly on the reasonable use of force, not citizens against other citizens and especially not against children

    This is actually completely wrong. Reasonable force by private citizens is permitted in self defence and in other cases to prevent a serious crime.

    You do run the risk of a court finding that your use of force is not reasonable.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Not only should Lewsley resign, but NICCY should be wound up.

  • Stiofan

    I am slighlty confused by this blog and the comments posted here.

    It’s akin to reading a Dickens novel.

    What is wrong with you people?

    The rest of the the progressive, civilised world gave up chastising children shortly after they stopped shoving children up chimneys.

    Perhaps Norn Iron could do itself a massive favour and do the same damn thing.

    Well done Patricia Lewsley I say. You were appointed to protect our children and that’s precisely what you are endeavouring to do.

    Keep going. You have right on your side.

    I dread to think where your opponents are getting their justification and moral guidance from.

    P.S. Belfast Gonza/Slugger – you are welcome to join us in the 21st century on the condtion you get a grip of yourself first!

  • As usual we Northern Ireland’s right wing rows in and claims that protecting children’s rights must be wrong. 50+ countries have banned physical punishment (a.k.a hitting!) of children, the UN has said it should stop here, and we condemn someone for trying to stick up for children. Lewsley’s post was created by the Assembly (yes those ‘elected’ representatives!) to, from the legislation, safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people. It is ridiculous to say that children can be subject to an assault under the guise of so-called chastisement.

  • Turgon

    I hesitate to comment as, since I am one of the resident right wing nutters, of course I smack my children.

    Actually I hate doing it and we try multiple alternative strategies. However, we are unable to use the naughty step etc. every time and yes our children do get smacked. I honestly find it difficult to believe that one can discipline especially smaller children without occasional recourse to smacking. I am sure some people can and you all have my admiration and indeed envy: we, however, are too weak to achieve this.

    In terms of Lewlsey, Alex S is exactly correct. An issue like this is one for government to pass laws on, not one for a quangocrat to decide on a new interpretation of the law for. If Lewsley feels that the law needs to be changed she should bring forward proposals to change it, not try to get the judiciary to invent new laws.

  • Turgon, I’m sure that like many people you struggle with this, and, if I remember rightly Lewsley is also calling for Government to provide better parental support for everyone to find alternative and better ways to discipline children. I’m pretty sure hearing a speech from her when she said that she wasn’t trying to ban discipline. As to the current law on this, it was actually introduced under direct rule by Lord Rooker, who promised at the time to provide better parental support…something you would have to be very determined to find! (It’s hidden somewhere on the DHSSPS web site).

    I think that in terms of the legal process NICCY started this before the current assembly got over their collective tantrum and began slabbering at each other in such a mature way…MLAs to the naughty step!

  • Belfast Gonzo


    I’m surprised you found the blog entry Dickensian, because it didn’t appear from what you wrote that you had read it.

    And Metal, no-one is talking about assault. What Lewsley wants banned is, essentially, physical contact for discipline.

    We’re not talking about knifing kids, but you’d think that’s what’s being suggested. We have plenty of laws against real physical violence, not the made-up violence in your head.

  • If I was to touch you in any way that I did not consent to that could be regarded as an assault. The PPS does not prosecute many of these under the legal sneak of diminus.

    Unfortunately the current law creates such confusion, and many professionals, especially health visitors, find it difficult to explain to parents what is lawful and what is not lawful when hitting/smacking/assaulting a child.

  • IJP

    Well said, Gonzo, and good to see so many posts on the subject are with you.

    I am supportive of the Children’s Commissioner, but not of one which:
    – takes on daft cases at public expense;
    – takes on daft cases even when they’re not at public expense (you are right to imply the comparison with the electric fence is a. ludicrous and b. irrelevant); and
    – takes up so much public money – lots of staff, huge wages, city-centre office.

    The sheer scale of the Commission is unnecessary in the context of devolution and, most particularly, it should not be “campaigning” for changes to legislation (that’s what MLAs get paid for).

    There are real issues affecting children in NI – we should have a Commissioner who is dealing with them.

  • IJP – after seeing your post went to see what the commissioner is actually doing. Seems to me that the commissioner is doing a helluva lot for children and young people from dealing with individual cases, campaigning for better school transport, improving child protection through better checks, getting results for children who need better special needs provision and trying to get more money spent on children’s services. Seems to me that apart from a few disparate and confused NGOs there is no-one else trying to get better conditions/rights etc for children. as to the spend on the commissioner, I think that given the fortune spent on MLAs and their cosy institutions, expense accounts and white elephant chamber there is no comparison.I think I know why Norn Iron has no youth assembly (unlike Wales)…it might show up how poor the debates are in the Assembly. Was talking to a group of young people tonight…guess what, those that were smacked/hit/beaten were the ones who said it was wrong, and those that were not were indifferent. They were mostly annoyed that no-one asked them what they thought!

  • Turgon

    Belfast Metal,
    I sort of agree with you up to a point but might I ask what age the young people you were talking to were? I suspect they may have been teenagers who probably should not be smacked.

    My children are 5 and 3 and I am sorry if you think rational debate or depriving them of something in the future etc. is an effective way to make them put their seat belt on etc. you know little about small children

  • Turgon – thety were 12 and 13-year-olds. I have two children, and went through the same moral dilemmas as any parent does. When my eldest was young (3) they were going through the usual tantrums/attention seeking. One night when I thought my temper (and exhaustion!) might get the better of me I threw their favourite teddy in the bin. Though this might be seen as a traumatic event, it instantly (well the next day) had the desired effect. Daddy was not messing around! Daddy wasn’t going to yell, scream, hit etc, but behave or there are sanctions. Best ever advice I got was from my GP who recommended reading Dr Christopher Green’s book ‘Toddler Taming’ which unlike most self-help books has common sense advice. Ay book which starts with the line “I used to be a child behaviour expert and then I had children” is to be recommended. There are no right or wrong ways to bring up your children, but hitting them (and please don’t patronise by calling it a smack) is wrong

  • Ditch the quangos

    Patricia seems to be doing for NICCY what she did for the SDLP in Lagan Valley. Its all show with no substance.

  • Turgon

    Belfast Metal,
    Fair enough you have my greatest respect.

  • willis

    “50+ countries have banned physical punishment (a.k.a hitting!) of children,”

    According to this site it is 23.

  • Magee Maverick

    Thank you Stiofan a sane person at last.

    If you have to resort to violence as a means of control or discipline you’ve already failed yourself and more iportantly psychologically and physically damaged your children.

  • Newton Emerson

    It suits NICCY’s apologists well to steer this argument towards the rights and wrongs of corporal punishment (or “reasonable chastisement”) but the real issue is about a public body, with an in-house legal team, pursuing an unaccountable legislative agenda that is outside both its remit and its competence.

    NICCY repeatedly brings judicial reviews, which it repeatedly loses, apparently oblivious to the fact that a judicial review can only find that a law is incompatible with existing laws, and only then in very limited circumstances. Making emotive statements about electric cattle fences and huffing about which analogies are “illegitimate” is just bizarre. Going for an appeal afterwards is self-indulgent lunacy.

    Nobody would act like this in court if it was their own money they were wasting. After so many years of legal grandstanding, there is little doubt that NICCY is simply wasting other people’s money to justify its own well-padded existence.

  • Newton – as far as I can recall the Assembly designed legislation that establishede NICCY compelled NICCY to have regard to the UNCRC, which, in the body of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child stated that the UK (incl. NI) should ban physical punishment of children. As NICCY legislatively has regard to the UNCRC, then it is within its remit. As to competence, a legislatively established organisation acting on children’s rights surely is the only one with ‘competence’.

    Checked with the so-called in-house legal team claim, and it seems that this legal teams acts on individual cases rather than the judicial reviews. And, it seems that there have only been two judicial reviews taken by NICCY – one on ASBOs and one on physical punishment/hitting children. And with a quick check on the Equality Commission’s website it seems that the ASBO legislation was regarded as poorly introduced as the NIO did not consult properly. And, a JR can declare that an existing piece of legislation has ‘incompability’ with various legal instruments etc.

    If two JRs in five and a half year’s existence is legal grandstanding then you have to wonder what the QCs and barristers are earning their crust from…ah yes those inquiries and enquiries into a past that has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

    I wish that such stupid enquiries would stop digging trenches over ground already tilled for future development and start to develop a taste for cultivating a society where rights (for children and adults) are about simply doing the right thing.

    If the so-called well padded existence of NICCY is part of this it is a small price to pay; and I note from Hanssard in 2003 that every political party backed the creation of the Commissioner’s office (Bob McCartney may have objected, not sure). Therefore, and this is a slightly tortuous therefore, NICCY has as much legitimacy as any other next step agency, and perhaps more than some of the arcane and archaic ones that lurk on the edges of our 11 departments…but then RPA was supposed to clear these out and as yet has failed to do so. C’mon Newton apply to be on the boards of some of these quangos and then be able to spill the beans from within.

  • IJP

    Belfast Metal – I think that says a lot for the failure of the Executive, rather than the success of the Commission.

    With a vaguely competent Executive, the money spent on the vastly over-staffed Commission would be directly spent on better child safety, better child protection, and better special-needs provision. It shouldn’t need a taxpayer-funded Commission to point that out. And as for spending money on a Children’s Commission which campaigns for, er, more money for children… well that just shows how daft it all is!

    As I say, except for this daft legal challenge, it’s not the Commission I oppose, but rather the terms under which it was set up (and thus the size to which it has grown).

  • IJP – I don’t see how you equate the failure of successive administrations to adequately fund services for children with the budget of the commissioner. I’m sure that you would agree that the asset-stripping of services was out of the public conscienceness, apart from in some families, until NICCY pointed these failings up.

    I can’t see your logic in there being a problem about NICCY campaigning for more money for children. They are campaignign for more money for childrne’s services. NICCY is funded through the OFMdFM and I can’t see where it has been campaigning for more moeny for itself. I addition I think, but stand to be corrected, that NICCY has not grown any since it was originally set-up.

  • Newton Emerson

    Hi Belfast Metal
    I do actually know someone who sat on the “ethics committee” of NICCY. He informed them that it was unethical for an unelected body to pursue a legislative agenda. After that, they parted company.
    In NICCY’s first attempted judicial review, on ASBOs, Justice Girvan ruled that the commission could not bring cases under the UNCRC while it was not incorporated into domestic law, could not bring cases under the Human Rights Act on its own behalf, and could not require ministers to consult with children and young people before making decisions. He then threw out the application.
    That was in 2004. The following year’s NICCY news letter attempted to portray this disaster as a success. Having apparently fooled itself with this re-write of history, NICCY has since returned to these lost legal arguments again and again, in court, in the press, in Stormont committees… it is a truly delusional organisation.
    Interesting to hear that the in-house legal team works only on individual cases (I assume you are hearing this from a friend or relative who works there? I use the term “work” in its loosest sense, obviously). Would that include such individual legal triumphs as getting four telegraph poles moved on a pavement in Loughinisland, this being the only legal success NICCY could cite in its last annual newsletter?
    It is quite a Chinese wall for NICCY to have an in-house legal team in its open plan office, yet for nobody to mention in five years that the cases it is bringing in others to pursue are absolutely hopeless. Still, I do hear that NICCY’s staff spend an awful lot of time running in and out to buy scones, so perhaps they keep missing each other in the lobby.

  • I don’t know your source’s derivation of that opinion Newton – but I did have a wee look at the Establishing Order of NICCY. (

    Under duties of the Commissioner is says this
    (2) The Commissioner shall keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the rights and welfare of children and young persons.

    Also, since Lord Girvan made that comment I believe that there have been revisions on the application of the UNCRC, althogh I’m not sure.

    Look forward to your comments in Thursday’s Irish News!

  • Neil

    What a waste of time! Staggering, really, primarily because a change in the law would be practically unenforceable. Those people who wallop their kids round Primark of a Saturday afternoon are already breaking the law. Those people who smack their child in the house, are unlikely to be prosecuted.

    The hypothetical situation where Belfast Metal (I think it was) gets touched by someone who he doesn’t want touched by is indeed against the law. How many people though have been prosecuted for touching someone? No one, and here’s why: the police are pragmatic realists and won’t waste their time on something totally pointless.

    Further, the suggestion that all children are exactly the same, and can be controlled using exactly the same methods is nonsense. When I was a child I was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, which I believe became ADD. I got the shit kicked out of me quite regularly for everything from talking back, to dousing our garage in petrol and throwing in a match.

    I have two sons now, aged 2 months and 2 years. I haven’t lifted a hand to them, I don’t want to, but I can see in my 2 year old the madness that prevailed in me when I was a child. This boy will not be controlled by words of any description, I know that, he ignores what he doesn’t want to hear.

    My sons will require chastisement, I know this, and this will hopefully prevent them from climbing pylons, throwing bricks, setting fires, and levering teaspoons into the elctrical sockets in my house.

    Belfast Metal said that throwing out the teddy had the desired effect, my take on that would be a) my son would be more emotionally distressed to see Iggle Piggle going in the bin, than almost anything else I can think of, and b) the following morning he wouldn’t remember or care.

    A complete and total waste of time and money (this is what we do well in NI). Two years ago everyone was happy enough to sit around while the various quangos spilled millions (or billions!) of quid away on daft wee schemes, seemingly designed to justify the quango’s existence. Well no more. How fucking daft are we going to feel when someone tots up the figures for all the cash that’s been pissed away, and compares it to the money we have left to spend now the credit’s crunching? When we eventually realise we had more money than we possibly ever will again, and it was all wasted to massage the egos of a few people and their pet projects.

    It’s infuriating.

  • @BelfastMetal

    I don’t think “having regard to the UNCRC” necessarily means seeking to change NI Law to conform to every opinion of the UN children’s rights lobby, through the means of judicial review of existing law.

    Having regard is not the same as slavishly following.

    And even if it really is the commission’s job to reconcile local law to any particular whim of the UNCRC, then the commissioner should be making proposals for new legislation in the Assembly. It’s called democracy.