Parents win right to forbid school caning

By Gareth Parry

The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Britain was wrong to allow corporal punishment in schools against the wishes of parents.

The six-to-one judgment in Strasbourg means that parents can, theoretically, forbid teachers to beat their children but it does not mean that such punishment will immediately be banned.

The ruling, legally binding on the Government, received a mixed reaction. Teachers’ unions expressed concern, corporal punishment abolitionists are calling for a total ban and the Department of Education side-stepped any hasty commitment.

It is likely that this ruling will eventually lead to Britain joining the rest of Europe in banning the cane or strap. More than a third of the education authorities have already done so or intend to do so.


blob RELATED VIDEO CLIP (2 minutes 52 seconds) from BBC TV news, 25 Feb 1982.

Tawse 1European Court of Human Rights ruling in Campbell & Cosans (Scottish tawse) case rejects the claim that belting is inhuman and degrading, but upholds parents’ right to have individual objections to school CP honoured. Staged scenes of tawse landing on hand. A tawsemaker is shown at work. Scenes at court in Strasbourg. One of the Scottish mothers reads a statement welcoming the ruling.

Tawse 2Off-screen reporter (Michael Buerk) summarises the possible implications for UK schools. (Notice how he uncritically adopts the anti-CP activists’ emotive language about “beating”, despite the BBC’s rule requiring a neutral or balanced point of view on controversial issues.) Reaction by unidentified school teachers’ union spokesman.


This video clip is not currently available.

IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with BBC. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the “fair use” doctrine EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.

blob See also: 30 October 1996 – Scottish cases helped to ban the beatings

blob See also: C. Farrell discusses the background to these cases, with a link to the full text of the court ruling itself.

blob See also: Illustrated feature article The Cane and the Tawse in Scottish Schools.


Corpun file 19436 at


The Times, London, 27 February 1982

Caned schoolgirl awarded £1,200

By Lucy Hodges

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A girl, aged 14, who was beaten by her headmistress and as a result developed weals on her buttocks of more than a foot long, has been awarded £1,200 in a settlement reached by the European Commission of Human Rights.

The report of the settlement between the girl’s mother and the British Government has not yet been made public but it reveals that the Government is to send out a circular letter to education authorities next week telling them that the use of corporal punishment may in certain circumstances be contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That article says that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The government also agreed to pay the girl’s mother more than £1,000 in legal costs.

Mr Tom Scott, education secretary of Stopp, the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment, said last night that the settlement was another blow to the Government from Strasbourg. On Thursday the European Court of Human Rights found against the United Kingdom in cases brought by two mothers in Scotland about the use of the tawse.

“This is just another case that will surely bring home to the Government that they have got to ban corporal punishment because they will not get out of it so easily on future occasions,” he said.

There are a number of other complaints filed in Strasbourg in which Scottish and English children have been beaten and where parents allege a breach of Article 3. The reason why “a friendly settlement” between the Government and the mother has been reached is that the mother wanted to avoid publicity and was afraid that if she went ahead to a hearing at the European court she would lose her anonymity.

Mr Scott said the Government was lucky to “have got out of this particular case with a friendly settlement”. It was significant that the United Kingdom had paid £1,200 for the caning, he said. “It is going to cost the Government a considerable amount if it has to pay out such a sum for every caning.”

The Department of Education and Science confirmed last night that a settlement had been reached in this case and that the mother had been paid at least £2,200. It is to issue the circular to education authorities, together with a copy of the commission’s report on the friendly settlement.

The report of the settlement, reached on December 17, concerned a girl at an English state secondary school. It is understood that she was beaten for a fairly trivial misdemeanour.

She received a few strokes of the cane and a doctor found that they had produced weals on the buttocks and hand. The girl was in discomfort for days and traces of the caning remained for a considerably longer period.

The mother and her daughter were represented by Mr Cecil Thornberry, formerly a lecturer at the London School of Economics who now works for the United Nations. European Commission watchers are impressed at the scale of the damages awarded to the girl which they say shows how seriously the commission regards beating.