The World Changes, So Must We

No. 20 of #50cases.

Anthony Tyrer, a fifteen-year-old school boy, was made to take down his trousers and underpants, and bend over a table. He was held by two policemen while a third flogged him. Pieces of the birch broke at the first stroke. His father was there and lost self-control after the third stroke, when he ‘went for’ one of the policemen and had to be restrained. The birching raised, but didn’t cut, Anthony’s skin and he was sore for about a week and a half afterwards. All of this was done to a citizen of the United Kingdom, a resident of the Isle of Man, as his sentence for assault imposed by domestic law.

Anthony complained that he had been subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The European Court of Human Rights found Anthony hadn’t been subjected to torture or inhuman punishment. But he had been subjected to degrading punishment. Anthony’s humiliation had reached the level inherent in the notion of ‘degrading punishment’. The assessment of ‘degrading punishment’ depended on all the circumstances of the case, in particular, the nature and context of the punishment, and the manner and method it was carried out.

The Isle of Man’s local requirements didn’t overcome the prohibition on degrading punishment. The prohibition was absolute. As well as prohibiting corporal punishment, this case introduced the principle that the European Convention is a living instrument, which must be interpreted in present-day conditions, not just as things were in when it was drafted in 1950. And this is a great example of how that works. In 1950 it was accepted that police occasionally beat children. By 1978, it was clear that things had to change.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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