A. v. United Kingdom

A. v. U.K., App. No. 25599/94, 27 Eur. H.R. Rep. 611 (1999).
Download Judgment: English

Applicant is a British citizen and a minor born in 1984 who was beaten on several occasions by his stepfather with a garden cane, causing bruises all over his body, until he was placed under child protection in 1990. The stepfather was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and tried but was found not guilty by the domestic court on grounds that the assault was merely a necessary and reasonable correcting of a difficult child by its parent, in this case the stepfather.

The court held further that it was not for the defendant to prove it was lawful correction, but for the prosecution to prove it was not.

In his application to the European Court, applicant complained that the State had failed to protect him from ill-treatment by his step-father, in violation of Articles 3 (freedom from torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and 8 (right to respect for his private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court found a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights because the boy's punishment amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. Further the Court held that the United Kingdom law had failed to provide adequate protection to the boy. As a result the Court did not find it necessary to examine whether the inadequacy of the legal protection provided to Applicant against the ill-treatment that he suffered also breached his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"23. The Court recalls that under English law it is a defence to a charge of assault on a child that the treatment in question amounted to "reasonable chastisement" (see paragraph 14 above). The burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the assault went beyond the limits of lawful punishment. In the present case, despite the fact that the applicant had been subjected to treatment of sufficient severity to fall within the scope of Article 3, the jury acquitted his stepfather, who had administered the treatment (see paragraphs 10–11 above)." Page 10.

"24. In the Court's view, the law did not provide adequate protection to the applicant against treatment or punishment contrary to Article 3. Indeed, the Government have accepted that this law currently fails to provide adequate protection to children and should be amended. In the circumstances of the present case, the failure to provide adequate protection constitutes a violation of Article 3 of the Convention." Page 10.