‘Cinderella law’: criminalising parental authority?

Saturday 18 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Pit Theatre, Barbican Legal Challenges

The Queen’s Speech in June 2014 announced that the UK government was considering making ‘emotional cruelty to children’ by parents and carers into a new criminal offence. This law has been dubbed the ‘Cinderella Law’ after MP Robert Buckland said that under current legislation ‘the Wicked Stepmother would have got away scot-free’. Buckland has argued the law would criminalise ‘a range of behaviours, from ignoring a child’s presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child’. Under the proposed legislation, ‘isolating’, ‘belittling’, and ‘rejecting’ children would, potentially, be a criminal offence. However, the then Home Office minister, Damian Green, claimed in a letter to Christian opponents of the change that it would be quite minor, ‘modernising’ the law to include ‘psychological abuse’.

Despite the good intentions of the promoters of the law, such as Action for Children, critics are concerned that even the more tentative wording of the new offence is both too vague and wide-ranging, and will criminalise what would be considered by most people to be normal aspects of parenting. Commentator Allison Pearson has asked about the potential consequences for the not-very-wicked mother or father trying to negotiate the rough and tumble of family life: ‘I have often wondered which of us would escape the attention of social services if they installed a CCTV camera in every home. Pearson Towers at 7.41am on a school morning is like Timon of Athens with PE bags.’ In Scotland, the introduction of ‘named persons’, specified state employees to provide oversight on every family, offers another example of increasing state intervention in the home. There are fears in both cases that the amended law will exacerbate generational conflicts in the home. Does this create a situation where no one can exercise control over their own children, and encourage children to interpret every criticism and hurtful remark made by their mum or dad as abusive? Will all parents go around looking over their shoulder worried about whether they are doing and saying the right things when rearing their children?

And what are the implications for the law, if it is being used as a moral marker, moving it further into areas that were once informal and subjective and are now being regulated and defined? Since emotional neglect has been part of the civil definition of neglect since 2001, is it necessary to have criminal laws to indicate what society considers is or is not acceptable behaviour within familial relations? Who judges what is the right way to react emotionally with your child?

Listen to the debate:

Daniel Monk
reader in law, Birbeck, University of London; assistant editor of Child and Family Law Quarterly

Dee Thomas
mother of four; campaigner, No2NP

Dr Stuart Waiton
lecturer in sociology and criminology, Abertay University; author, Snobs' Law: criminalising football fans in an age of intolerance

Jane Sandeman
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre

Produced by
Jane Sandeman convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre
Recommended readings
Ashya King: parents are more trustworthy than the state

Officialdom’s war on parental authority created this travesty of justice.

Luke Gittos, , 3 September 2014

Video: NO2NP campaign launch – Dr Mike Fitzpatrick GP

Dr Mike Fitzpatrick, GP and author of ‘The Tyranny of Health’, warns that those behind the Named Person proposals have no idea what they are doing and that what they are doing will do harm.

No to named persons campaign, 1 July 2014

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the second most common reason for a child to be put on the child protection register or made subject to a child protection plan.


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