Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Ashya King

If ever there were an illustration of the need to resort sparingly to the use of the criminal law in child protection cases, there is none better than the sad case of the little boy, Ashya King, taken from hospital in Southampton by his parents following what seems to have been a dispute with doctors about his treatment.

The criminal law is a blunt instrument. In this case it did not function either to safeguard the child (which, as events turned out, was not required) or to promote his welfare. Instead the sum total of the intervention seems to have caused both the child and his parents untold and unnecessary distress.

Yet policy makers in Britain are apparently considering introducing a new criminal offence of emotional neglect which has all the potential to result in similar cases of bureaucratic cruelty and injustice.

The moral of the Ashya King case is that resort to the criminal law should be a last resort in all but the most blatant cases. Where there is intentional and deliberate cruelty to children and young people, as in Rotherham, then the perpetrators should face justice in the criminal courts. But in most circumstances in which concerns arise the emphasis should be on retaining as far as possible the ability to work constructively with all parties. Heavy-handedness does not usually result in a good outcome.

And policy makers should focus on creating safe, effective and caring services - not on criminalising people.