Beating of children to be outlawed

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THE LAW is to be changed, making it illegal for parents to beat their children, after a landmark European court judgment yesterday in favour of a boy who was caned by his stepfather.

Judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that British law, under which the stepfather was acquitted, failed to protect the basic rights of the boy, who was then nine. "Child A", who cannot be named for legal reasons, was awarded pounds 10,000 in damages and pounds 20,000 in costs.

But the ruling also means that ministers will have to amend the law to take account of the judgment. A consultation paper is expected by Christmas and one likely option is that hitting children with a stick or other object will be made illegal.

The judges ruled that the treatment of Child A, who is now 14, was prohibited by the Convention of Human Rights which states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

The court ruled that English law, under which the prosecution must prove that an assault on a child is beyond the limits of reasonable punishment, did not provided sufficient protection.

Michael Gardner, of Morgan Bruce, the legal firm that represented the boy, said: "I am delighted for Child A who fought this case not only on behalf of himself but to help other children. This is one of the biggest changes in child protection law for 130 years. We await the Government legislation with interest."

Paul Boateng, the Health minister, said it was nothing to do with the issue of smacking. "The overwhelming majority of parents know the difference between smacking and beating."

William Hague, the Conservative leader, said the ruling had taken the nanny state too far.