Equal protection from assault in England and Northern Ireland: Prohibiting physical punishment of all children

In England and Northern Ireland, children are the only group of people not fully protected in law from physical assault. Our recommendations demonstrate to Government policymakers both the practicalities of removing the 'reasonable punishment defence’ from law and the appropriate next steps to reduce the harmful practice of physical punishment.

The evidence set out in this report shows that the use of physical punishment has negative consequences for children’s physical and mental health, social, behavioural emotional wellbeing, parental engagement and school engagement.

There is also evidence that physical punishment escalates in severity, putting children who are physically punished at higher risk of experiencing significant harm through serious physical assault.

Scotland and Wales have paved the way for the UK to become a more equal society by removing the reasonable chastisement defence from their legislation. Political leaders in England and Northern Ireland now have an opportunity to do the same and to tangibly demonstrate their commitment to championing children’s rights, improve outcomes for children and protect them from harm.

I urge both current and aspiring policy makers to embrace the recommendations of this report... and continue to shape the UK into a safe, respectful environment where children and families are supported to flourish, happily, healthily, and safe from harm.

Professor Steve Turner, RCPCH President

See our 'quick read' here and download the full report from the bottom of this page:

Our recommendations in brief
  1. We recommend that the Secretary of State for Education commences the legislative process necessary to change the law to remove the reasonable punishment defence (as set out in Section 3 of the report) in sufficient time to conclude enactment of these prior to the next UK general election.
  2. We recommend that the Minister for Justice should lead the Northern Ireland Assembly in amending the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006) to remove the reasonable punishment defence from Northern Irish Law.
  3. We recommend that all political parties incorporate removing the reasonable punishment defence in their general election party manifesto, and if appointed to UK Government, signal the legislative  change will be enacted in the first wave of new legislation after formation of the new Parliament, with a specific commitment set out in the King’s speech.
  4. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (England) and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) (NI) should issue guidance on prosecuting offences relating to the physical assault of children by their parents which requires legal professionals to consider the best interests of the child and their family in their prosecution decisions.
  5. The Sentencing Council (England) and The Lord Chief Justice Sentencing Group (NI) should produce a sentencing guideline for those people charged with physical punishment of children making clear that custodial sentences should be avoided except in the most serious of cases.
  6. The Department for Education (England) and the Department of Education (NI) should develop and adopt a cross-sector Equal Protection Plan to identify and brief all services working with children; to devise evaluation and monitoring processes; to set out communication strategies; and to agree a budget outside of the law change.