Court of Appeal: Buxton, Rix and Arden LJJ, December 2002
The claimants were teachers at, or parents who sent their children to, independent private schools that had been established specifically to provide Christian education based on biblical observance. As part of the regime administered by those schools, and agreed to by the parents, discipline was enforced when thought appropriate by the use of mild corporal punishment. The claimants contended that it was part of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs that such discipline should be administered, when appropriate, as an integral part of the teaching and education of children. They also believed that such discipline was efficacious. Section 548 of the Education Act 1996 provided that corporal punishment could not be justified in any proceedings on the ground that it had been given in pursuance of a right exercisable by a member of staff by virtue of his position as such. The claimants contended that that provision interfered with their freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs, contrary to Article 9(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as scheduled to the Human Rights Act 1998, and with their right to education in conformity with their religious convictions, contrary to Article 2 of the First Protocol to the Convention, as well as with their right to respect for their family life, contrary to Article 8 of the Convention.
The court held: (1) that the claimant's belief in the use of mild corporal punishment as part of a Christian education was a 'belief for the purposes of Article 9 of the Convention; that the use of corporal punishment in the schools concerned was a manifestation in teaching or practice of the parents' belief within the meaning of Article 9 and not merely motivated by that belief, and so Article 9 was engaged. But (2), dismissing the appeal, that the immediate infliction of such punishment by teachers was not a manifestation of the teachers' belief for the purposes of Article 9; that section 548 of the 1996 Act did not materially interfere with the parents' rights under Article 9 since the application of such punishment could be carried out by the parents themselves either at school or at home and their beliefs did not, in the case of most of the claimants, require that the punishment be administered at schools and the parents were in any event free to educate their children at home in accordance with their beliefs. (3) That, although the claimants' belief in the use of mild corporal punishment as part of a Christian education was a religious or philosophical conviction for the purposes of Article 2 of the First Protocol, section 548 of the 1996 Act did not violate that article; and that section 548 would not in any event materially interfere with any right of the parents under Article 2 since the application of such punishment could be carried out by the parents themselves. (4) That there was no breach of the parents' rights under Article 8 of the Convention or Article 10. Article 2 of the First Protocol is concerned solely with the rights of parents, and therefore the interests of the teachers were not engaged by it. The beliefs expressed and sought to be practised by the parents did not attain the level or cogency and cohesion which is required if those beliefs are to count as religious and philosophical convictions of the nature which is protected by
This case is reported at  QB 1300.
(2004) 7 Ecc LJ 491-492