Editorial: But is it not a criminal matter?

The current contretemps between the Honourable Minister of Education, Ms Santia Bradshaw, and some of the local schoolteachers illustrates cogently that in Barbados, sometimes it is not what you say but how you say it. Ms Bradshaw is quoted as having warned that she will not tolerate teachers who flog children when the law does not permit them to do so.

As stated, this is wholly unexceptionable. No state that considers itself subject to the rule of law could disagree with this dictum. But she went further and advised the parents of unlawfully punished children to report such cases to the Ministry and urged police “to follow through and prosecute the perpetrators”. Again, in our view, this would seem a natural and probable consequence of the original unlawful act, but it seems as though the twin reference to the police and possible criminal prosecution immediately raised the hackles of the teachers.

Thereupon, a self-styled group of “concerned teachers of Barbados” issued a public memo to the Minister, branding her comments as “irresponsible”. And in a letter to another section of the local print press, one retired teacher reminded readers that the Ministry “always had methods of reprimanding teachers who go astray without involving the police” and queried what was wrong with an internal investigation of the incident, whatever that might mean. He further pleaded with the Minister to bring balance and reasonableness to her utterances in regard to the teachers and to be “more analytical when dealing with educational issues.

In our opinion, Ms Bradshaw neither said or did anything wrong. The entitlement of a teacher to discipline a schoolchild corporally is founded in the common law notion of in loco parentis, a principle that was ultimately discarded in favour of that entitlement being based on the status of the parties, especially when it was recognized that a parent might be able to forbid the corporal punishment of his or her child if the teacher was acting only on his or her behalf and the parent had expressly proscribed this form of punishment. This also gained statutory endorsement in section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1904t that stipulated-
“Nothing in this act shall be construed to take away or affect the right of any parent, teacher or other person having the lawful control or charge of a child to administer punishment to such child.”

The authority of the individual class teacher to punish a child corporally was however further restricted by the amendment to the Education Regulations 1982 that provided, among the functions of the principal, the right to “administer corporal punishment when necessary and [to] delegate to the deputy principal and senior teachers, where applicable, the authority to administer corporal punishment…”

Absent this express or delegated legal authority, the corporal punishment of an individual child by a teacher amounts to an assault, a wrong that may either be pursued civilly as a tort, as in the matter of Jolly Mayers v. the Attorney General of Barbados (1993) where the claimant was unsuccessful in her action, or prosecuted as a crime under Part III of the Offences against the Person Act, Cap 141.

On these premises, Ms Bradshaw was merely stating what the law currently provides and, at the same time, in our view, instructing teachers of the legal risks involved in unsanctioned corporal punishment. In this context, unless her statements are contradicted as a matter of law, calls for balance, reasonableness and responsibility and analysis seem curiously misplaced.

Barbados Advocate

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