The Scottish Law on Child Cruelty and Wilful Neglect: time for reform?

Pamela R. Ferguson (Lead / Corresponding author), Dominic Scullion

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In 2012 an Independent Advisory Committee on Child Maltreatment concluded that the English legislation on child cruelty/child neglect was difficult to implement in practice and did not cover the range of harms which can be suffered by children, particularly emotional harm. English law has now been amended to make clear, inter alia, that it is an offence to ill-treat a child “whether physically or otherwise”, and that the suffering or injury caused, or likely to be caused, can be of “a psychological nature”. The English offence does, however, continue to refer to “wilful neglect”, a controversial term that is also used in the equivalent Scottish offence, and which has been subject to various interpretations by courts on both sides of the border. This article briefly summarises the past and current English law, describes and critiques the Scottish law, and assesses whether amendments similar to those enacted for England and Wales ought to be adopted in Scotland. It concludes that Scots Law would benefit from further clarification, and argues that the interpretation of “wilful neglect” to include inadvertent recklessness is not appropriate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-74
Number of pages25
JournalJuridical Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


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