Current UK legislation on physical punishment

In England and Wales, section 58 of the Children Act 2004 permits parents and others who have care and control of a child (unless otherwise restricted by the law) to raise the defence of “reasonable punishment” for a common assault on the child.


The defence of “reasonable punishment” is not available for injuries to children which cause actual bodily harm (ABH).


Anyone acting in loco parentis may use the defence of “reasonable punishment”, regardless of parents’ wishes in the matter, so long as they are not specifically prohibited from doing so. (See more in what is wrong with section 58)


In Northern Ireland article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 repeats the provisions of section 58. In Scotland, section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 permits the defence of “justifiable assault” on a child for assaults which can include actual bodily harm, but specifically excludes any punishment involving a blow to the head, shaking or the use of an implement. The section also requires courts, in determining whether an assault is justifiable, to have regard to a number of factors: “a) the nature of what was done, the reason for it and the circumstances in which it took place; b) its duration and frequency; c) any effect (whether physical or mental) which it has been shown to have had on the child; d) the child's age and e) the child's personal characteristics (including, without prejudice to the generality of this paragraph, sex and state of health) at the time the thing was done.”

Recent news

Report calls for prohibition in Scotland

Date: December 2015

A systematic review of research literature on physical punishment, jointly commissioned by Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and NSPCC Scotland was published in November

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Corporal punishment to be banned in madrassas

Date: December 2015

On November 27 the Government published plans to prohibit corporal punishment in all part-time educational settings, including madrassas (see: consultation). The proposals also aim to prevent children being “radicalised” in madrassas...

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