Home International Cases R v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents) ex parte Williamson (Appellant) and others

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Key words
Article 9
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Noteworthy information relating to the case

Appeal dismissed.

Other information

R v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents) ex parte Williamson (Appellant) and others

UKHL 15 (2005)

Facts of the case

The claimants contend this ban (total ban on the use of corporal punishment in all schools) is incompatible with their Convention rights, i.e., freedom of religion and freedom to manifest their religion in practice, a right guaranteed under article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights. 


The claimants’ beliefs regarding the use of corporal punishment by both parents and teachers are based on their interpretation of certain passages in the Bible. For instance, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him’: Proverbs 13:24.

Findings related to FoRB

FoRB violation – Manifestation: worship, observance, practice, teaching. Appeal dismissed.


(1) ‘…manifestation of these beliefs in practice was not in the best interests of children.’ 


(2) ‘Everyone, therefore, is entitled to hold whatever beliefs he wishes. But when questions of ‘manifestation’ arise, as they usually do in this type of case, 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 requisite 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: see Arden LJ [2003] QB 1300, 1371, para 258′.


(3) ‘More difficult is the question whether the claimants’ beliefs are compatible with today’s standards of human integrity. Clearly, corporal punishment can be inflicted on a child in a way which would be incompatible with those standards. Belief in the use of corporal punishment of that nature would not be protected by article 9. But corporal punishment need not be administered with such severity or in such circumstances that it will significantly impair a child’s physical or moral integrity’


(4) ‘The interference with the manifestation of the claimants’ beliefs effected by section 548 readily meets the criterion that it must be prescribed by law. The ban has been prescribed by primary legislation in clear terms. Equally 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. That corporal punishment may have these harmful effects is self-evident.’