The position of a Headmaster of a school

We may recall the well-known observations of Menon C. J., in Aldo Maria Patroni and Another Vs. E.C. Kesavan and Others, regarding the unique position of the head of an educational institution — in that case the Headmaster of a school.

“14. The post of the headmaster is of pivotal importance in the life of a school. Around him wheels the tone and temper of the institution; on him depends the continuity of its traditions, the maintenance of discipline and the efficiency of its teaching…..”

The position should be a fortiori so in the case of the Principal of a College.

3. The inherent right and the quasi-parental authority of a teacher to proceed by way of disciplinary action against a pupil under his charge has been well-recognised over the years; and we should think it is ingrained in the habits of thought and philosophy of our country. One of the well-known early cases in which the quasi-parental authority of the Principal of a College was expounded, was P. Sankunni Vs. C.S. Venkatramani, minor by next friend C.S. Swatninatha Pattar, The English decisions were surveyed. We wish to cite the following passage from the judgment of one of the Judges (Venkatasubba Rao, J.) :

“According to the law of England the authority of the schoolmaster is, while it exists, the same as that of the parent It is stated that the parental authority is delegated to the schoolmaster and that the schoolmaster represents the parent for purposes of correction. This proposition is borne out by ample authority (see Regina v. Hopley (1860) 2 F & 7 202) and Fitzgerald v. Northcote ((1865) 4 F & F 665); Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol. 27, page 876, Vol. 12, p. 124 and Vol. 17, page 107).

The power of the English father over his children was never so wide as that of the Roman father. Under the ancient Roman laws the father had the power of life and death over his children. But this doctrine of paternal authority was gradually relaxed, though it was never under the Roman Law, wholly abandoned. The common law however gives the parent only a moderate degree of authority over his child’s person and the parental chastisement must be moderate and must be exercised in a reasonable manner, and if the parent exceeds the bounds of moderation and inflicts cruel and merciless punishment he is liable to be punished (see Scholer’s Domestic Relations, 5th Edition, Section 244, and Ever-sley on the Law of Domestic Relations, 3rd Edition, pages 509 and 510).

It follows therefore that for purposes of correction the schoolmaster may inflict a moderate and reasonable corporal punishment. Cockburn, C. J., says in Regina v. Hopley (1860) 2 F & F 2021 above referred to:

“If it be administered for the gratification of passion or of rage, or if it be immoderate and excessive in its nature or degree or if it be protracted beyond the child’s powers of endurance or with an instrument unfitted for the purpose and calculated to produce danger to life or limb, in all such cases the punishment is excessive, the violence is unlawful.”

At page 563 will be found the caution administered against the infliction of grotesque and out-moded forms of punishments against which the Courts would not hesitate to step in against the teacher. Reference is made to the well-known treatises, and to the dictum of Cock-burn, C. J. in, Fitzgerald v. Northcote (1865) 4 F & F 665 , that, on the one hand, it is for the general benefit of the society and of its youth that the authority of those charged with the care of scholastic establishment should be maintained, and that, on the other, it is of equal importance that it should not be exercised arbitrarily. The principle of this decision was followed by the Bombay High Court in G.B. Ghatge Vs. Emperor, in the background of different facts and circumstances. It was observed:

“When a child is sent by its parent of its guardian to a school, the parent or guardian must be held to have given an implied consent to its being under the discipline and control of the school authorities and to the infliction of such reasonable punishment as may be necessary for the purposes of school discipline or for correcting the child. This principle has been accepted by the Rangoon High Court in King-Emperor v. Maung Ba Thaung, ILR 3 Hang 659 AIR 1926 Ran 107 27 CriLJ 636).”

Reference was made to P. Sankunni Vs. C.S. Venkatramani, minor by next friend C.S. Swatninatha Pattar, and the principle was accepted that a schoolmaster as a delegate of the parent, may, for the purpose of correction, inflict moderate and reasonable corporal punishment on the child. In Rex v. Newport (Salop) Justices (1929) 2 KB 416 the powers of supervision and control of teachers over the pupil was considered by Lord Hewart C.J. noticing the decision in Mansell v. Griffin (1908) 1 KB 160, 947 and the observation of Walton J, in that case, the learned Chief Justice observed:

“He also said: “It seems to me that the authority to administer, moderate and reasonable corporal punishment, which any parent who sends a child to school is presumed to give to the authorities of the school, extends to the mistress occupying the position which the defendant occupied in this school”. (1908) 1 KB 166 That is a clear statement of the legal proposition that any parent who sends a child to school is presumed to give to the teacher authority to make reasonable regulations and to administer to the child reasonable corporal punishment for breach of those regulations. So far from holding a view contrary to that statement of the law, the justices have almost in terms expressed the same view of the law as is there set forth. To refer to another case, in Cleary v. Booth, (1893) 1 QB 465, Collins J., as he then was said: “It is clear that the relation of master and pupil carried with it the right of reasonable corporal chastisement. As a matter of common-sense, how far is this power delegated by the parent to the schoolmaster? Is it limited to the time during which the boy is within the four walls of the school, or does it extend in any sense beyond that limit? In my opinion the purpose with which the paternal authority is delegated to the schoolmaster, who is entrusted with the bringing up and discipline of the child, must to some extent include an authority over the child while he is outside the four walls. It may be a question of fact in each case whether the conduct of the master in inflicting corporal punishment is right.” (1893) 1 QB 465 (468)He further said: “It cannot be that such a duty or power ceases the moment that the pupil leaves school for home; there is not much opportunity for a boy to exhibit his moral conduct while in school under the eye of the master; the opportunity is while he is at play or outside the school; and if the schoolmaster has no control over the boys in their relation to each other except when they are within the school walls, this object of the Code would be defeated”. (1893) I QB 465 (469) These observations seem to me to express very clearly the principles applicable to the present case.”

See also Ganesh Chandra Saha Vs. Jiw Raj Somani, and AIR 1947 193 (Bom.) , In Ramaswamy Iyer’s Law and Torts, Seventh Edition, at pages 548, 549; while discussing parental and quasi-parental authority, it is stated that a schoolmaster has the power of chastisement over a pupil committed to his charge, arising from delegation by the parent or guardian.



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