NSPCC responds to controversial remarks by judge in Re A (2015)
Remarks made by Mrs Justice Pauffley that cultural allowances should be made for slapping children has attracted criticism from the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
The judge made the comment during a four day evidence gathering hearing in a case involving a husband accused of abusing his wife and child. She suggested that agencies need to allow for a cultural context when making decisions about physical abuse cases.
In Re A (A child: Wardship: Fact finding: Domestic Violence)  EWHC 1598 (Fam) the judge heard that the parents travelled from India to the UK on temporary visas in 2006 a year after they married. Their son was born in 2007. The mother returned to India alone in 2007, leaving the child with the father. She told the judge her husband had tricked her into returning to India saying he and their child would follow within a few days. The father claimed he was unable to travel as he could not obtain a passport for their son.
The mother returned to the UK in 2014 and sought asylum. After the mother’s return to the UK, the parents agreed for the mother to spend some time with her child. There followed a few visits, including an overnight stay. During one such visit the police were called and the father was arrested for assault. After he was released on police bail he issued proceedings to have his son returned to his care with a prohibition against the mother taking her son back to India. The mother alleged the father was abusive from early in the marriage. The father denied this.
Mrs Justice Pauffley summarised the law and the factors which authorities should take into consideration when determining whether to make contact orders in cases which involved domestic violence. The judge stated that the court can only make an order for contact if it is satisfied that before and after contact the safety of both child and parent can guaranteed. Having considered the evidence the judge concluded the father was physically violent towards the mother from the start of the marriage.
During an Achieving Best Evidence interview, the child suggested the father hit him with a belt. The father denied this claiming he had only slapped his son for disciplinary purposes. The judge ruled this did not amount to physical abuse.
It was held that due consideration must be given to first generation immigrants and the different cultural contexts of child rearing.
The judge concluded that in this case the child did not appear to have suffered more than mere sadness and stated it was important for the child to rebuild his relationship with the father.
The NSPCC said it was shocked by the comments because there was no excuse for child abuse and that all children needed to be protected regardless of cultural sensitivities.