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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK


Caning ruled illegal

The European Court ruling will have wide implications

A boy has been awarded £10,000 compensation after a court ruled that a caning from his stepfather broke the law.

BBC correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: "A far-reaching judgement"
The case is likely to lead to a ban on parents severely beating their children, although the UK Government says smacking is a separate issue.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg said the beating on the unnamed boy - who was eight at the time - breached a human rights convention ban on "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

[ image: Paul Boateng:
Paul Boateng: "Common sense"
The government and children's rights groups welcomed the decision and ministers are already planning to change the UK law.

But the ruling was criticised by some Conservative MPs, with one suggesting the court should take "a running jump".

The judges heard that the boy was beaten with a three-foot long garden cane. Some of the blows were inflicted directly on to bare skin.

The stepfather was cleared of assault in 1994 after arguing he practised "reasonable chastisement" under the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act.

But the boy took his case to the European court.

The European judgment said the beating amounted to "considerable force" on more than one occasion.

The boy was awarded £10,000 compensation and £20,000 legal costs.

The judges said the UK Government was responsible because the law "did not provide adequate protection to the applicant".

It quoted the European Convention of Human Rights which says: "No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Legislation planned

Home affairs correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti: "The government has now to act"
Health minister Paul Boateng welcomed the ruling as "common sense", but emphasised the difference between smacking and beating.

"This has nothing to do with the issue of smacking. The overwhelming majority of parents know the difference between smacking and beating.

"They know how to ensure good social behaviour in a loving and caring way. We respect that right."

Bans on all corporal punishment of children have already been introduced in many European countries, although opponents say they have had little effect.

But the National Children's Bureau is fully behind a total ban, which is says will "change attitudes and practice and thus reduce the need for prosecutions and other formal interventions in families".

'Nanny state'

Members of the Opposition were scathing about the judgment.

[ image: William Hague:
William Hague: "It's up to parents"
Conservative leader William Hague told BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young Show: "We've taken the nanny state too far when we have to have court rulings about what people can do with their own children in their own home."

Tory backbencher Bill Cash said it was an "ivory tower" decision, adding that children needed "proper discipline".

His colleague Gerald Howarth added: "This court is now sticking its nose into areas of the most minute detail and the time has come to tell it to take a running jump."

But Andrew Rowe, Conservative joint vice-chairman of Westminster's all-party group on children, welcomed the ruling.

Mr Rowe is also a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and warned that the ruling would have to be interpreted "sensibly".

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