European Court to rule on boy's spanking claim

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A CASE which could lead to the end of corporal punishment in private schools began in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yesterday.

Lawyers for Jeremy Costello- Roberts, who was beaten by his private school headmaster, accused the Government of breaching his human rights.

They said that the beating amounted to 'inhuman or degrading treatment', which is barred by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Corporal punishment was banned in British state schools in 1987, but the Government believes that parents should be free to choose schools which administer the punishment.

Peter Newell, co-ordinator of the End Physical Punishment of Children campaign, said ministers would be forced to change their minds if the Costello-Roberts family was successful. 'It was a previous decision of the European Court which led to the Government banning corporal punishment in state schools. It is extraordinary that the Government is prepared to go to court to defend a practice which in any other settng would be regarded as child abuse,' he said.

Jeremy was beaten in 1985, when he was seven, and his family complained to the European Commission. In 1990, the Commission ruled that the punishment was not degrading, but that it breached the article of the Convention which guarantees 'the right to respect for private and family life'.

Yesterday, the court was told that Jeremy was beaten three times on the bottom with a gym shoe after he had been scolded five times for talking in a corridor and once for being 'a little late' to bed. The school was not named.

The Government denied the family's claims that the boy was extremely disturbed by the punishment and said he had difficulty adapting to boarding school life.

The verdict is not expected for several months.