A v UK [1998] 2 FLR 959

Corporal punishment – Article 3 ECHR


A, a nine year old boy, was discovered to have numerous bruises following an examination by a paediatrician, which indicated that A had been beaten with a garden cane on more than one occasion with considerable force. A's stepfather, F, was charged under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 section 47 with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. At trial, F successfully claimed the English law defence that A's beating was reasonable chastisement and was acquitted. A took the case to the European Court of Human Rights.


A claimed the English law relating to lawful chastisement failed to protect him, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (ECHR) Article 3, which states that

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."


The beating of A was of sufficient severity to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3. Sufficient severity for Article 3 of the ECHR to apply depends on the circumstances of the case including the nature and context and physical and mental effects of the ill treatment, its duration, and the victim's age, sex and state of health. The UK Government had violated Article 3 by failing to provide adequate protection for children under the English law of chastisement. Article 1 read with Article 3 of the ECHR had to be read as imposing a positive obligation on contracting states to ensure the protection of those within their jurisdiction and prevent suffering from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, especially in relation to children.