Campbell & Cosans v. United Kingdom

App. No. 7511/76, 7743/76, 4 Eur. H.R. Rep. 293 (1982).
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Applicants, Mrs. Cosans and Mrs. Campbell, were Scottish nationals who complained about the use of corporal punishment in Scottish schools as a disciplinary measure. Mrs. Campell’s request for a guarantee that her son not be subjected to such punishment was refused. Mrs. Cosans’ son was summoned by his Headmaster for corporal punishment upon taking a shortcut through a cemetery on his way home from school. He was subsequently suspended and was denied any reprieve of suspension because his parents insisted that, if he were readmitted to school, he would not receive corporal punishment while he was a pupil. The school considered this a refusal to accept its conditions and warned the parents that they may be prosecuted for failure to ensure his attendance at school. Consequently, Mrs. Cosans’ son spent approximately a year out of school.

The applicants alleged that their sons were victims of a violation of Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Mrs. Cosans also alleged that, by reason of his suspension from school, her son was denied the right to education contrary to the first sentence of Article 2 of the Protocol No. 1 of the ECHR. Finally, the applicants claimed that their rights as parents under the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the ECHR (respect for the rights of parents to ensure education in conformity with their philosophical convictions) were violated.

The Court pointed out that there was no actual application of corporal punishment to the applicants' sons. While the Court conceded that the threat of punishment may amount to a violation of Article 3 provided that it is sufficiently real and immediate, the present case did not come within the scope of the Article. While the boys may have experienced “apprehension” or “disquiet,” the Court stated that the mere threat of corporal punishment did not have the requisite effect of humiliation or debasement to be considered a violation of Article 3, indicating that the applicants did not produce any evidence that their sons had any lasting adverse psychological effects. Consequently, there was no violation of Article 3 of the ECHR.

The Court considered the issue under the first sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) separately from the claim under the second sentence. The Court stated that Mr. and Mrs. Cosans’ son’s return to school could have been secured only if they had acted contrary to their convictions – convictions that the State was required to respect. As such the suspension of Mrs. Cosans’ son and his conditional re-admittance to the educational institution amounted to a violation to his right to education under the first sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.

In respect of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 2, the Court observed that the education of children is “the whole process whereby, in any society, adults endeavour to transmit their beliefs, culture and other values to the young…” As such, the Court rejected the State’s attempt to separate off internal administration of punishment as outside the scope of education per Article 2 (P1-2), finding that corporal punishment is an integral part of the process whereby schools develop and mold the character of its students. The Court adopted a meaning of “philosophical convictions” as denoting convictions worthy of respect in a “democratic society”, which must be compatible with human dignity and children’s right to education. As such, the Court held that the applicants’ opposition to corporal punishment fell within this criteria as such views encompass a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and affects the integrity of the person. As such, the applicants were found to be victims of a violation of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the ECHR.

"30. As to whether the applicants' sons were humiliated or debased in their own eyes, the Court observes first that a threat directed to an exceptionally insensitive person may have no significant effect on him but nevertheless be incontrovertibly degrading; and conversely, an exceptionally sensitive person might be deeply affected by a threat that could be described as degrading only by a distortion of the ordinary and usual meaning of the word. In any event, in the case of these two children, the Court, like the Commission, notes that is has not been shown by means of medical certificates or otherwise that they suffered any adverse psychological or other effects (see paragraph 13 above)."