Here’s why MSPs must reject the smacking bill tomorrow – Gordon Lindhurst
The bill’s purpose is to withdraw a centuries-old defence that parents can fall back on if accused by the state of assaulting their children, says Gordon Lindhurst
In the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, MSPs have an opportunity to begin to restore faith in democracy. They have the chance to show that Scotland can be a world leader again, rather than just a follower. And an underperforming follower at that. With faith in politicians and political institutions at a dangerous low for democracy the need to raise its currency with the everyday public is crucial.
Not the time it would seem, for parliament to decide to unleash the full force of the state against ordinary unsuspecting families. And yet that is what is proposed. The misleadingly named “Equal Protection from Assault” bill has only one purpose, and that is to withdraw a centuries-old defence that parents can fall back on if accused by the state of assaulting their own children.
That defence is effectively simply a restatement of what should be the universally accepted principle that an individual is innocent until the state proves that they are guilty. A fundamental principle which is increasingly under attack, usually indirectly, in our increasingly proscriptive age.
It is common to have defences like this at common law which depend on the context, circumstances and relationship of the parties to each other.
Adults are allowed to go into a boxing ring and assault each other to name but one example. Police officers are allowed to “assault” other adults in the course of the execution of their duties if those adults do not respond to lawful orders. But as seen in the recent High Court decision of McCallum, that right does not extend to forcing their way into the private home of a woman in Edinburgh unlawfully without a warrant before forcibly taking her away, leaving her 14-year-old son alone in the house!
That the police officers did not seem to understand this basic point and the woman had to go through the harrowing process of being convicted of multiple assault and appealing twice before seeing justice from the appeal court is utterly alarming. The idea that parents have nothing to fear from the removal without qualification of a time-tested protection for them, their children, and their family, is a nonsense. There are more basic issues with the operation of the current justice system which need addressed first.
The supporters of the bill point to UN declarations, which if read with any attention to their actual detail or the Scottish system itself reveal that life is not quite as simple after all. In theory, the parliamentary committee responsible for scrutinising the bill should have done so. Instead the majority has simply rubber stamped the original proposal without qualification. Only a very brave minority of the committee dissented, and chose instead to speak truth to power.
The Scottish Parliament was set up 20 years ago to be the people’s parliament, the listening parliament. MSPs can show tomorrow that it is prepared to be just that and reject the smacking bill. If they choose to ignore the ordinary Scottish people who submitted overwhelmingly to the committee against the bill they will do the opposite. They will be telling those people they do not listen and they do not care. That is the sort of attitude that presents a danger to democracy and undermines public trust.
Gordon Lindhurst is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian