Regina v Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others ex parte Williamson and others: HL 24 Feb 2005

The appellants were teachers in Christian schools who said that the blanket ban on corporal punishment interfered with their religious freedom. They saw moderate physical discipline as an essential part of educating children in a Christian manner.
Held: The appeal was dismissed. For Article 9 to be engaged (aside from certain other threshold conditions) the manifestation of belief relied on must be intimately linked to the belief concerned. ‘Religious liberty, they say, requires that parents should be able to delegate to schools the ability to train children according to biblical principles. In practice the corporal punishment of boys takes the form of administering a thin, broad flat ‘paddle’ to both buttocks simultaneously in a firm controlled manner. Girls may be strapped upon the hand. The child is then comforted by a member of the staff and encouraged to pray. The child is given time to compose himself before returning to class. There is no question of ‘beating’ in the traditional sense. ‘Smacking’ would be closer to the mark.’ They had been appointed as agents of the parents, and purported to deliver that discipline not as teachers but in loco parentis.
Held: The argument that the teachers were acting as agents for the parents was untenable. ‘article 9 safeguards freedom of religion. This freedom is not confined to freedom to hold a religious belief. It includes the right to express and practise one’s beliefs. Without this, freedom of religion would be emasculated. Invariably religious faiths call for more than belief. To a greater or lesser extent adherents are required or encouraged to act in certain ways’ and was given special mention in the 1998 Act. Not every act of physical punishment would infringe a child’s article 9 rights, and therefore a full ban required justification. The rights protected under Article 2 were those of the parent not of a teacher. Lord Nichols: ‘I am in no doubt this interference is, within the meaning of article 9, ‘necessary in a democratic society . . for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. The statutory ban pursues a legitimate aim: children are vulnerable, and the aim of the legislation is to protect them and promote their wellbeing. Corporal punishment involves deliberately inflicting physical violence. The legislation is intended to protect children against the distress, pain and other harmful effects this infliction of physical violence may cause.’ Limits on Convention freedoms must fulfil three well-known criteria: (1) they must be prescribed by law; (2) they must pursue a legitimate aim; and (3) they must be necessary in a democratic society.’ The ‘notion of necessity implies that the interference corresponds to a pressing social need and, in particular, that it is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.’ ‘it is quite impossible to say that Parliament was not entitled to limit the practice of corporal punishment in all schools in order to protect the rights and freedoms of all children.’
Lord Nicholls said: ‘Religious and other beliefs and convictions are part of the humanity of every individual. They are an integral part of his personality and individuality. In a civilised society individuals respect each other’s beliefs. This enables them to live in harmony. This is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. Unhappily, all too often this hallmark has been noticeable by its absence.’ and
‘a belief must satisfy some modest, objective minimum requirements. These threshold requirements are implicit in article 9 of the European Convention and comparable guarantees in other human rights instruments. The belief must be consistent with basic standards of human dignity or integrity. Manifestation of a religious belief, for instance, which involved subjecting others to torture or inhuman punishment would not qualify for protection. The belief must relate to matters more than merely trivial. It must possess an adequate degree of seriousness and importance. As has been said, it must be a belief on a fundamental problem. With religious belief this prerequisite is readily satisfied. The belief must also be coherent in the sense of being intelligible and capable of being understood. But, again, too much should not be demanded in this regard. Typically, religion involves belief in the supernatural. It is not always susceptible to lucid exposition or, still less, rational justification. The language used is often the language of allegory, symbol and metaphor. Depending on the subject matter, individuals cannot always be expected to express themselves with cogency or precision. Nor are an individual’s beliefs fixed and static. The beliefs of every individual are prone to change over his lifetime. Overall, these threshold requirements should not be set at a level which would deprive minority beliefs of the protection they are intended to have under the Convention . . in deciding whether… conduct constitutes manifesting a belief in practice for the purposes of article 9 one must first identify the nature and scope of the belief. If… the belief takes the form of a perceived obligation to act in a specific way, then, in principle, doing that act pursuant to that belief is itself a manifestation of that belief in practice. In such cases the act is ‘intimately linked’ to the belief, in the Strasbourg phraseology.’

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
[2005] UKHL 15, Times 25-Feb-2005, [2005] 2 WLR 590, [2005] 2 AC 246, [2005] 2 All ER 1, [2005] ELR 291, [2005] 2 FLR 374, [2005] 1 FCR 498
House of Lords, Bailii
Education Act 1993 293, Children Act 2004 58, Day Care and Child Minding (National Standards) (England) Regulations 2003 SI 2003/1996 5, Education Act 1996 548, European Convention on Human Rights 9, Human Rights Act 1998 13(1)
England and Wales
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CitedCampbell and Cosans v The United Kingdom ECHR 25-Feb-1982
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‘Slippering’, a punishment by hitting a child with a slipper, when used as part of school discipline was not a degrading punishment under the convention. Conduct must attain a minimum level of severity to engage the operation of the Convention. . .
CitedRegina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment Admn 15-Nov-2001
A genuine religious belief which supported the use of corporal punishment in schools was not itself either a manifestation of religious belief which required protection under the convention, or a religious and philosophical conviction for the . .
Appeal fromRegina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment CA 12-Dec-2002
The claimants sought a declaration that the restriction on the infliction of corporal punishment in schools infringed their human right of freedom of religion. The schools concerned were Christian schools who believed that moderate corporal . .
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The applicants, ultra-orthodox jews, challenged the regulation of ritual slaughter in France, which did not satisfy their exacting religious standards.
Held: The applicants’ right to freedom of expression was not limited by the controls on the . .
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The plantiff argued that the the objects of the Secular Society Ltd, which had been registered under the Companies Acts, were unlawful.
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Hudoc Judgment (Merits and just satisfaction) . .
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Held: Dillon J referred to Russell LJ as having taken the view that the court could hold that there are purposes ‘so . .
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The local authority applied for a care order in relation to the child, on the ground that there was an urgent and continuing need for medical treatment which included blood transfusions. The court considered the legal effect of a parent’s belief (as . .
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High . .
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Employees claimed religious objections to being obliged to members of a Trades Union.
Held: It is the obligation of states which have ratified the Convention to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms which it . .
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The claimants sought a declaration that part of the Regulations were invalid, and an infringement of their human rights. The Regulations sought to exempt church schools from an obligation not to discriminate against homosexual teachers.
Held: . .
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The defendant was convicted for proselytism contrary to Greek law. He claimed a breach of Article 9.
Held: To say that Jehovah’s Witness were proselytising criminally was excessive. Punishment for proselytising was unlawful in the . .
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CitedEl Al Israeli Airlines Ltd v Danielowitz 1994
(Israel) A free society respects individual differences, and ‘Only the worst dictatorships try to eradicate those differences.’ . .
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The claimants challenged the provision of compulsory sex education in state primary schools.
Held: The parents’ philosophical and religious objections to sex education in state schools was rejected on the ground that they could send their . .
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Right to Life Did Not include Right to Death
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Held: Particular weight should be attached to the best interests of the child, which may override those of the . .

Cited by:
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Held: The school’s appeal . .
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The court was asked whether a school was entitled to refuse to allow a Muslim girl to wear the niqab full face veil at school. The reasons were ‘first educational factors resulting from a teacher being unable to see the face of the girl with a . .
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The prisoner was a muslim and fasting as part of his religious observance. He sought judicial review of a decision that he was in breach of the Rules when unable to provide a urine sample for a drugs test. He would have had to break his fast to . .
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The appellants owned a guesthouse. They appealed from being found in breach of the Regulations. They had declined to honour a booking by the respondents of a room upon learning that they were a homosexual couple. The appellants had said that they . .
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Education, Torts – Other

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.222992