Commissioner loses appeal against law that allows parents to smack children


NORTHERN IRELAND’S Children’s Commissioner yesterday lost her appeal against the law that allows parents to use smacking as chastisement.

Judges ruled that Patricia Lewsley’s challenge must fail because she cannot be classed as a victim under the Human Rights Act.

Her office was also ordered to foot the bill of taking the case to the Court of Appeal. The commissioner was seeking to overturn a finding that the Secretary of State did not act illegally by bringing the law in Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales.

Ms Lewsley’s lawyers argued that a defence based on the right of parental correction or punishment was incompatible with children’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

They claimed parental corporal punishment breached the dignity and wellbeing of children, that it was ineffective and a counterproductive means of discipline.

It was also submitted that it sent out the wrong message to parents and that the law lacked clarity and transparency.

During the case, it was suggested that smacking children was a deterrent similar to electric fences being used to keep animals in a field. But dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Girvan ruled that the High Court judge who rejected the original application reached the right verdict.

He said: “We conclude that Mr Justice Gillen was correct to conclude that the commissioner is not a victim and hence is not entitled to the relief which she seeks in these proceedings.” During his judgment Lord Justice Girvan also pointed out that the use or threat of force was not always unlawful.

“In particular, it may be justified on the basis of actual or implied consent, self-defence, crime prevention or crowd control and on the basis that it involved the lawful punishment of a child,” he said.