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The anti-smacking Bill - exempting "time-out"

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The anti-smacking Bill - exempting "time-out"

United Future MP Gordon Copeland today released the text in support of his amendment to Green MP Sue Bradford's Bill, which aims to ensure that parents who adopt good parenting practices such as "time-out" will not be criminalised.

He has written to Labour Whip, Tim Barnett in the following terms:

Dear Tim,

I attach hereto a copy of an amendment to the above Bill.

I will briefly explain its necessity

The amendment is to subsection (3) of the new section 59 (clause 4 of the Bill).

That subsection reads as follows:

"Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1)."

This is a fairly unusual clause but it is explained in the Law Commission report to the Justice and Electoral Committee dated 8 November 2006 as follows (see para 12):

"Subsection (3) has been included (so that) - In the event of a potentially ambiguous situation such as "time-out" where there may be a mix of motives, subsection (3) seeks to ensure that parents cannot rely on a corrective purpose for their actions."

This means that if the motive for "time-out" is for the correction of a child then it is prohibited.

I wanted to ensure that my interpretation of the Law Commission Report was correct. Accordingly I commissioned a legal opinion from Peter McKenzie QC.

His conclusion was categorical and unambiguous in concluding that the forcible carrying of a child to "time-out" or a "naughty-mat" or similar, if done for a corrective purpose, will come within the meaning of an assault under the Crimes Act 1961. In other words, such activity will be criminal.

Peter McKenzie's conclusion is confirmed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, President of the Law Commission, in his letter to Lynne Pillay, Chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee, dated 8 March 2007 in the following terms (see page 2):

"Committee members will recall that, in relation to option 1, (i.e. the Bill now before Parliament) the Law Commission was advised by a majority of the members that the outcome sought was a prohibition on the use of any force against children for corrective purposes. We are consequently delighted to receive Mr McKenzie's independent confirmation that this objective is achieved by our proposed draft."

Sir Geoffrey goes on to debate whether or not such a crime will or will not expose parents who use it to the risk of prosecution. However that is a quite separate debate. Regardless of whether or not prosecutions follow, I believe we need to make the law crystal clear, especially when we are dealing with the Crimes Act!

I seek Labour's support for this commonsense amendment to the Bill.

With all good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Gordon Copeland


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