Teachers stop hitting children after Scottish mums complain to Strasbourg

Campbell and Cosans v. United Kingdom  | 1982

Teachers stop hitting children after Scottish mums complain to Strasbourg

The duty to respect parental convictions in this sphere cannot be overridden by the alleged necessity of striking a balance between the conflicting views involved, nor is the Government’s policy to move gradually towards the abolition of corporal punishment in itself sufficient.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, February 1982



Grace Campbell and Jane Cosans both had children in state schools in Scotland, where staff were allowed to hit pupils with a leather strap for disciplinary reasons.

Mrs Campbell asked her local council for a guarantee that corporal punishment would not be used against her seven-year old son, Gordon. The council would not give her such a guarantee.

Mrs Cosans’ son Jeffrey, who was 15, refused to accept corporal punishment for taking a short cut through a cemetery on his way home. He was suspended from school, and never returned.

The two mothers complained to the European Court of Human Rights.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that corporal punishment had not actually been used against the two children, who had not suffered torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

However, by allowing corporal punishment to be used in state schools the authorities had violated the women’s right to have their children educated in line with their own philosophical convictions.

When you strip it away, what you’re really talking about is hitting another individual

Grace Campbell’s son Andrew, speaking to the BBC


In 1986, the British government introduced a new Education Act abolishing corporal punishment in state schools. The law entered into force the following year.

Grace Campbell and Jane Cossans received money towards their legal costs and expenses, and Jeffrey Cossans was paid £3,000 in damages.

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