UN Human Rights Committee recommends repeal of ‘justifiable assault’ defence

Date: 4th August 2015
Category: Equal protection from violence, Age of criminal responsibility

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its recommendations (Concluding Observations) to the UK on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which include equal protection from assault and raising the age of criminal responsibility.

On 23rd July 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee published its findings on the countries it examined during its latest session, which included the UK. The findings, officially termed Concluding Observations, contain positive aspects of the respective State's implementation of and also main matters of concern and recommendations.

Concluding Observations made by UN Committees can be an unparalleled tool for non-government organisations to stimulate a discussion at the national level, to exert pressure on the government to follow up on the recommendations of the Committee, and to lobby for changes in legislation and practice.

Corporal punishment

The Committee remains concerned 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 is further concerned about the lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in the home and the existing legal defences of "reasonable punishment" in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or "justifiable assault" in Scotland. The Committee recommends that UK governments should take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings, including the home, throughout United Kingdom and all Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and repeal all existing legal defences across the State party's jurisdiction. It should encourage non-violent forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment, and conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about its harmful effects.

Administration of juvenile justice

The Committee raised concerned that the age of criminal responsibility is set at 8 years of age in Scotland (and at 12 years for criminal prosecution) which is not in accordance with international standards. It recommended that UK governments should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with international standards and ensure the full implementation of international standards for juvenile justice and step up efforts with a view to further reducing the number of children in the juvenile justice system.

Stop and search powers

The Committee raised 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 Committee recommends the repeal of non-statutory stop and search powers in Scotland and pursue its efforts aimed at improving the process of selecting targets under statutory mandates.

The domestic human rights framework

In relation to the UK Governments proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act, the UN Committee recommended that if any legislation is to be passed in lieu of the Human Rights Act 1998, it would be aimed at strengthening the status of international human rights, including the provisions of the Covenant, in the domestic legal order and provide effective protection of those rights across all jurisdictions.