Corporal punishment and the costs of judicial minimalism

Author Patrick Lenta

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Associate Professor, Law Faculty, University of Technology Sydney; Honorary Research Fellow, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 137 Issue 2, p. 185-200


In Freedom of Religion South Africa v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development 2020 (1) SA 1 (CC), the Constitutional Court declared the common-law defence of ‘reasonable corporal punishment’ unconstitutional. This note draws attention to the costs of the court’s embrace of judicial minimalism. I argue that the narrowness of the judgment — the court’s restricting the grounds of its decision to just two — and its shallowness — the Chief Justice’s eschewal of theoretical ambition in particular — results in a failure credibly to justify the restriction of parents’ freedom to raise their children as they see fit. Not only does this justificatory shortfall risk eroding the court’s perceived legitimacy, it also neglects appropriately to educate citizens about the wrong fulness of all parental corporal punishment, undermining the judgment’s potential to bring down the incidence of this practice.