Is being a thug a human right?

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
A BOY who tattooed the word "Thug" across his forehead and a pupil who brought a boa constrictor to school are among children whose families have tried to defend their behaviour using the Human Rights Act.

The cases are revealed in a new book which examines the impact the Act has had on education since it came into effect in October 2000.

Its author Simon Whitbourn is a solicitor whose clients include the Department for Education and Skills and several local education authorities. Mr Whitbourn outlines the case of a secondary that refused to admit a boy who had semi-permanently tattooed the word "Thug" across his forehead.

"Although in reality, as he had done the tattoo in the mirror, it actually said 'GUHT'," he writes.

Mr Whitbourn also heard two complaints that children's rights had been infringed because teachers had confiscated possessions. The first case concerned a knife, the second a boa constrictor.

"In the second, the main complaint was that the school's confiscation of the snake infringed its own rules," Mr Whitbourn wrote. "The father's grievance was that the school rules said 'No pets are allowed into school'.

But the snake was not a pet, rather a part of his wife's somewhat exotic stage act."

None of the above claims proved successful. But Mr Whitbourn said schools might have problems punishing pupils who criticised teachers or wore inappropriate clothing because of Article 10 of the Act, which guarantees freedom of expression.

He also warned local authorities to be cautious about prosecuting parents of persistent truants in cases where the parent was physically unable to force their child to go school. However, he concluded the Act had made little impact on education so far, and said attempts to use it to ban practices such as detention were likely to prove futile.

His overall message for schools about the Act is reassuring: "Be prepared but don't panic."

"Education and the Human Rights Act 1998" is published by the National Foundation for Educational Research, price pound;15.

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