UN criticises stop and search and UK child smacking and responsibility laws
The United Nations has issued a report criticising corporal punishment law and the age of criminal responsibility in the UK, as well as the “disproportionate” use of stop and search by Police Scotland.
The international body’s human rights committee has released a twelve-page report examining whether the UK is fulfilling its obligations through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It has said the covenant and the new report should be widely disseminated among the UK’s judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, as well as civil society and non-government organisations operating in the country.
The report communicates the committee’s concern “that corporal punishment is still not fully outlawed in the home and certain educational and alternative care facilities in the United Kingdom and in almost all British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories”.
It issued a call for the repeal of existing legal defences for corporal punishment across the UK’s jurisdictions, including the defence of “reasonable punishment” in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and “justifiable assault” in Scotland.
Ireland has also faced separate calls from the UN to ban corporal punishment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We do not condone violence towards children. However, we do not wish to criminalise parents for issuing a mild smack.”
The report also voices concern about the age of criminal responsibility, which is 10 years old in England and 8 years old in Scotland (but 12 years for criminal prosecution). The worldwide average is 12 years old.
The UN has called on the UK government to “raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with international standards and ensure the full implementation of international standards for juvenile justice”.
The Scottish government is also facing calls to repeal non-statutory stop and search powers, with the UN report citing concern “about the use of stop and search powers in Scotland, particularly non-statutory searches undertaken on a large scale by Police Scotland, that appear to involve, inter alia, the selective application of such measures in a manner which is allegedly unlawful and disproportionate”.
The report says the process of selecting targets under statutory mandates should be improved so as to ensure their conformity with the Covenant.
It also urges the government to “undertake comprehensive data gathering about the application of stop and search power and improve the transparency of the process”.
The report also dissects the UK’s anti-terror legislation and handling of historic allegations relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Professor Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “Scotland generally performs well when it comes to human rights. But gaps still exist when it comes to a series of important issues that affect people in everyday life. These include unlawful police stop and search, high suicide rates, the continued use of corporal punishment in the home and problems securing access to justice.
“The Commission is therefore extremely pleased that the UN Human Rights Committee has taken on board our evidence on these and other issues. Its robust recommendations should now be addressed by the Scottish and UK Governments. The Scottish Parliament should also consider the role it can play on those issues where it has a remit to act.
“The Commission will share the report’s findings and recommendations with civil society and the wider public. As Scotland’s national human rights institution, we will continue to hold all concerned to account by monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.”