• February 12, 2015


One of the most moving and influential books that I have read is:

AGAINST BIRCHING: Judicial Corporal Punishment in the Isle of Man*
It was written and published forty years ago and it should be compulsory reading for all those who believe in adopting a harsh regime with those who offend.

Against Birching is all the more moving because it outlines a harsh judicial form of punishment that was administered mainly to children and also (although only a slim tome of just 98 pages) it totally deconstructs the fallacy on which judicial corporal punishment was based.

Now thankfully, the Birch (and Cane) have now been long consigned to the dustbin of history, but the book also (in Chapter 9) highlights the parsimonious attitude of those in judicial authority at the time. Any hope that such attitudes had also been consigned to the dustbin of history along with corporal punishment have been dispelled this week following a report on the sentencing of a young women in Ramsey to a spell of imprisonment by the High Bailiff.

The High Bailiff (HB), Jane Hughes, obviously anxious to emulate the ‘tough guy sentencing’ policies of her predecessors was faced with a woman who had ‘stolen logs and coal to keep warm’. The materials concerned were recovered.

The woman’s Advocate said (with what must be a degree of understatement) that the offence though ‘inexcusable’ was not a ‘mean offence’.

The ‘good Bailiff’ however was having none of it and the offender was given a five week prison sentence.

Just to emphasise her tough stance the HB also fined the defendant a total £625 (incl. costs) on another offence. Though just where a person without the means to buy coal and logs ‘magic’s up’ that amount of money is anyone’s guess!

The defendants Advocate was correct it was not a mean offence. However the sentence imposed was ‘mean’ and vindictive. It appears not much has changed (certainly in relation to judicial attitudes) in forty years on the Isle of Man!

Bernard Moffatt
Director of Information
Celtic League


AGAINST BIRCHING (Sub Heading) Judicial Corporal in the Isle of Man
Author: Angela Kneale
ISBN 0 9001108 27 8

Published by Russell Press Ltd Nottingham for The National Council for Civil Liberties (out of print).

(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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