Pauffley J has delivered a controversial judgment about physical chastisement of children within communities ‘newly arrived in this country.’
The proceedings concern a 7 year old boy, ‘A’. A’s parents met and were married in India in 2005. They travelled to England in 2006 where A was born. The marriage broke down and divorce proceedings were issued in early 2013. The mother claimed that the marriage was ‘horrible, very scary and not happy’ and that she was regularly beaten. The father denied he had ever been violent.
Between April 2013 and July 2014 the mother returned to India, under the belief that the father would follow with A. However the father instead remained in UK with A. A short time after the mother’s return, in October 2014, there was an incident between the parents in A’s presence which resulted in the father’s arrest for common assault. Immediately following this incident, the father issued proceedings seeking the return of A to his care and various orders to prevent the mother from taking A abroad.f
The short judgment, delivered after a 4 day fact-finding, focuses primarily on the many allegations of physical violence perpetrated by the father against the mother. The Judge accepted the mother’s account of the various incidents of serious violence, and found that violence was a feature of their marriage.
However, the hearing also considered allegations of physical assault made by A against his father. In ABE, A described incidents where his father had hit him with a belt on his back and leg. He answered affirmatively to police questions about whether it hurt, whether it left marks and whether the marks ‘went quite quickly’. The mother said that she had seen the father slap A twice and there had been occasions when he had been pushed and shouted at.
The father denied ever striking A with a belt, but acknowledged a ‘slap or a tap’. The father clarified this as something not intended to hurt A badly, but instead intended to ‘keep him disciplined.’
Pauffley J found as follows:
“I do not believe there was punitively harsh treatment of A of the kind that would merit the term physical abuse. Proper allowance must be made for what is, almost certainly, a different cultural context. Within many communities newly arrived in this country, children are slapped and hit for misbehaviour in a way which at first excites the interest of child protection professionals. In this instance, and on the basis of his ABE interview, A did not appear to have suffered more than sadness and transient pain from what was done to him.”
The full the judgment is reported as Re A (A child: Wardship: Fact Finding: Domestic Violence)  EWHC 1598 (Fam).